On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced the rollout of his anti-poverty proposal, “Expanding Opportunities in America.” In the proposal, Ryan highlighted the 2.2 million Americans currently incarcerated and pushed for loosening the economic burdens that these men and women face upon return to their communities.
“We have seen a dramatic rise in incarceration over the past 30 years and a consequential explosion in corrections budgets,” said Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy. “Congressman Ryan may be House Budget Committee Chairman, but his proposal is focused on the most important cost: the devastating impact the system has on families and communities. We must refocus the justice system on its true purpose to restore those affected by crime − victims, offenders, and communities.”
Ryan’s proposal calls for reforms in three areas: sentencing; prison programming to reduce recidivism; and supporting state, local, and non-governmental initiatives.
First, the proposal cited dramatic increases in mandatory minimum sentences, especially for non-violent and low-level crime, as a significant contributor to the growth in the federal prison population. Only six percent of the federal prisoners are incarcerated for violent crimes. Ryan called on Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act to reduce rigid and excessive mandatory sentences for drug offenders that “may add to an already over-crowded prison system without appreciably enhancing public safety.”
Longer sentences do not necessarily result in prisoners being better prepared to rejoin society. In fact, Ryan’s proposal cited Justice Fellowship’s analysis on how “prison culture often has the opposite effect.”
Accordingly, Ryan advocated for passing a second piece of legislation, the Public Safety Enhancement Act (a similar bill was introduced in the Senate: the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act). The legislation seeks to identify the risks and needs of federal prisoners in order to assign appropriate rehabilitation programming and to increase incentives to participate in programming.
Finally, the proposal featured promising initiatives led by state and local agencies and non-profit organizations to help prevent crime and reintegrate men and women returning from prison. Ryan specifically lauded the work that faith-based organizations do to turn around people’s lives.
“We are thrilled that Congressman Ryan’s criminal justice reform recommendations include two of Justice Fellowship’s federal legislative priorities,” said DeRoche. “These bills help advance key principles of restorative justice. The Smarter Sentencing Act will establish proportionate consequences for non-violent drug offenders and the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act will encourage constructive culture within prisons. If we are going to truly fix the problems of the criminal justice system, however, it will take more than legislative proposals. We need citizens advocating for reform and stepping up to care for all those impacted by crime.”
Will you join the call for reform? Use Prison Fellowship’s easy online advocacy tool to email your legislators in support of the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act today!
If you are interested in bringing restoration to those impacted by crime, Prison Fellowship Ministries offers many opportunities to serve prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Prison Fellowship volunteers serve as mentors to men and women behind bars, and provide both physical and spiritual support for those reentering society through the Bridge Churches program. Through Angel Tree, Prison Fellowship is able to share the love of Christ with the families of prisoners, providing Christmas gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parent, and providing support and encouragement to these families year-round.
To learn how you or your church can be a part of this ministry, please visit www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved.