UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Sentencing and Corrections Act of 2015 on October 22 by a vote of 15 to 5. The bill now advances to the full Senate for approval. To contact your Senator to encourage their vote in support of the legislation, click here.
On October 19, Prison Fellowship Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy Craig DeRoche addressed a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. The legislation seeks to reform mandatory minimum sentencing, to allow greater judicial discretion in sentencing, and to reduce mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses, while promoting in-prison programs to reduce recidivism.
“It is due time we reevaluate how long we punish people against the value of proportionality and essential that we start using our prisons as a means to develop good citizens, not just good prisoners,” DeRoche said. He called for a restorative approach to crime and punishment, with an emphasis on proportional sentencing.
DeRoche told the committee of Prison Fellowship’s founder, Chuck Colson. After serving time in a federal prison for a Watergate-related offense, Colson vowed to remember the men and women behind bars, and founded a ministry devoted to serving prisoners and their families. DeRoche also told of his previous alcohol related arrests. “Just like Chuck,” he said, “when I speak about reforming the criminal justice system, I don’t speak about what ‘those people’ need. I am one of them, and what we need is justice that restores.”
During the follow-up discussion, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) thanked DeRoche for the efforts of Prison Fellowship in Texas to prepare prisoners for reentry, which have helped to reduce recidivism rates there. “I appreciate the important contribution your organization’s efforts have contributed to in my state,” Cornyn said, “and I think [they have] helped contribute tremendously to these results.”
When asked about the effectiveness of Prison Fellowship’s efforts in transforming the lives of prisoners, DeRoche emphasized the importance of faith in changing hearts and behavior. “I think too often we think that the crime [a person is committing] is their problem,” he said. “It’s not—it’s their solution. So what we need to do is to go in when people have the willingness … even if someone is never going to leave prison … and make that transformation worth something. Because it’s available, and it’s been demonstrated time and time again, and by studies all throughout this country that people can, when they have the willingness, change their behavior and character. Faith plays an important role in that.”
To learn more about Prison Fellowship’s efforts to promote meaningful justice system reform by supporting legislation like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, please visit www.justicefellowship.org.