Last Friday afternoon, Prison Fellowship’s Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of policy and advocacy, joined President Obama at the White House for a preview of HBO VICE’s upcoming special “Fixing the System,” a documentary on the current state of America’s criminal justice system and what can be done to improve it. (Obama’s recent visit to a federal prison—as the first American president to make such a visit—will be featured in the special.)
The president began his remarks by recognizing the scar that crime leaves upon communities across the country, but then acknowledged that a system that overuses incarceration takes its toll as well.
For too many individuals, particularly non-violent offenders caught up in an environment in which drugs are pervasive and opportunity is lacking, the punishment does not fit the crime … and the effects of this mass incarceration ripple through families and communities, especially communities of color, in ways that are not just a problem in the here and now, but in ways that ripple across generations.
There need to be second chances, he went on:
We’ve got to make sure that our criminal justice system works; we’ve got to make sure that our criminal justice system keeps people safe, we have to respect the incredibly difficult job that police officers have … we have to recognize that there are prosecutors and judges throughout the system who want to do the right thing … but are bound by laws that are too often created by politics or misguided theories as opposed to the evidence and what’s required to keep people safe. Bottom line, we’ve got to make sure that our criminal justice system does not perpetuate a cycle of hopelessness, but rather lifts people up.
As a panelist on a discussion about criminal justice reform, DeRoche also had an opportunity to offer his thoughts.
“It’s about the transformation of each human life,” he emphasized, about the work of Prison Fellowship. “We teach family skills that people might not have been exposed to before they went to prison.”
With the attention of national media and our president, and a growing movement to correct a broken system, the time for criminal justice reform is now, DeRoche urged.