The Justice Declaration Symposium equips 80 church leaders to play a role in every step of crime and incarceration.
The U.S. is home to just 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world's prisoners. Nearly 2.2 million Americans are in prison and approximately 70 million American citizens have a criminal record, presenting obstacles to their future flourishing.
Prison Fellowship® believes the Church has a unique capacity and calling to respond to the crisis of crime and incarceration. That's why we hosted the Justice Declaration Symposium in Washington, D.C., an event that brought together 80 pastors and church leaders to sharpen one another in the calling to restore those affected by the criminal justice system.
Throughout the day, pastors and church leaders heard from a variety of speakers and panelists about victim care, prison ministry, caring for families with incarcerated loved ones, welcoming returning citizens, and justice reform.
Prison Fellowship President and CEO James J. Ackerman kicked off the event, noting that "The Church has a role to play in every step of crime and incarceration, from victim care to justice reform." To that end, each topic discussed included practical tips for pastors and churches interested in ministering to those impacted by crime and incarceration.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, one of the event's featured guests, said in an interview, "I am one that believes that the Church and private sector organizations are by definition the best solutions and answers very often."
Following DeVos was keynote speaker Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore said that those who belong to the kingdom of God should have a "different vision of what matters and who matters," defined by our knowledge of the heart of God. This includes those incarcerated and the victims of crime.
Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education
Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
To equip and encourage attendees to take action based on what they learned, Prison Fellowship's Justice Reform team hosted a Day of Action on Capitol Hill the following day. Attendees received training on how to conduct a meeting with a congressional official. They were then accompanied by a Prison Fellowship staffer as they crisscrossed Capitol Hill to meet with congressional members from their home states. The topic of their meetings was Pell Grants for prisoners. In all, the groups met with 39 House and Senate offices.
Dan Kingery, Prison Fellowship's executive vice president of field programs, summed up the two-day gathering well, saying, "Most people look at prison like it's a building on fire. They run the other way, away from the problem. But first responders run towards the problem." The Church and Christians, he said, should be like first responders, running into the problem—into prison—instead of away from it.
"Most people look at prison like it's a building on fire. They run the other way, away from the problem. But first responders run towards the problem."
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