FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gail C. Arnall, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, meeting in their annual leadership conference in Chicago, this year took a further step toward releasing a major statement on Criminal Justice. The “Draft Statement on Criminal Justice” was released yesterday to the public. Gail C. Arnall, executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington, a nonprofit organization working with offenders welcomed the statement. (Please visit http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/Criminal-Justice.aspx for the ELCA Summary Statement).
Statement of Gail C Arnall, Ph.D. on the Church’s statement:
I welcome the news from the Evangelical Lutheran Church. By issuing the draft Statement working towards its final edition in 2013, the Church has recognized that we need further public education on this topic and a broader social conversation about the reentry after imprisonment of those formerly incarcerated. We tend to forget the people who we put behind bars, but as both President Bush and President Obama have reminded us, 95% of these citizens will return to our communities. One in 31 in America is presently in jail or prison, or under active supervision by probation or parole. Simply building more and more prison has not been the answer. Nor has mandatory sentencing or “three-strikes and you are out” sentencing policies worked.
I am reminded of one of OAR clients: a military veteran from Iraqi wars who found himself imprisoned following his tours of duty overseas. He told me that coming out of prison, he realized he was “untouchable.” Think of it: he had moved from being a hero to being a leper, someone that no one wants to know or be in relationship with.
There is no doubt that offenders have made huge mistakes and must be made accountable. The question is at what price – and more importantly in what way. I am a proponent of holding those convicted accountable while saying to them that if you wish to reform your life, we will help you. It is your chance. The present alternative says you will have never paid your debt to society; you can never get a job again or support your family or be a member of the community again. This does not work. It does not work for tax payers, for felons, for victims of crime or for the society and our economy.
I offer my thanks again to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for bringing this issue before our nation’s conscience and asking for it to be a part of our national agenda. I hope we can invite churches, synagogues and all citizens of all good-will into a deeper and broader discussion of how best to fashion our criminal justice policy.