US evangelical leaders call for urgent prison reform


Inmates serving a jail sentence make a phone call at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, July 30, 2010.Reuters

Leading US evangelicals and Christian prison reform advocates have released a 'Justice Declaration' outlining plans to 'fix the criminal justice system'.

The US Christian ministry The Prison Fellowship yesterday released its prison reform ambitions in its Justice Declaration, according to the Washington Times. The declaration calls for a 'fair and redemptive' justice system, rooted in 'biblical truth', and has been signed by about 100 Christian leaders in the US.

'We have a criminal justice system that does not stop crime, but in many cases actually furthers crime — making criminals out of those who are not yet criminals [and] ignoring those who have been victims of crime,' said Russell Moore, leading Southern Baptist and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at a news conference at Washington DC's National Press Club.

'I think most of us in American life can agree our criminal justice system doesn't work the way it's supposed to. We should fix it. And, as evangelical Christians, we should be among the first to say so.'

The declaration was also backed by Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He said: 'The time has come to fix our criminal justice system. The Justice Declaration is a call for us to do our part. What we need is concerted action.'

The declaration highlighted that at present 2.2 million prisoners are being held across the US, more than in China, Russia or any other nation in the west. It called the situation a 'crisis of overcriminalization'.

James Ackerman, Prison Fellowship's CEO, said that 'Our country's overreliance on incarceration fails to make us safer or to restore people and communities who have been harmed.'

One prison reform advocate spoke from his own personal experience of incarceration at a young age, and a redemptive journey from drug dealing to church ministry.

'This declaration is so powerful. It's so needed. And as the body of Christ, we can change a community and change our nation,' said Dimas Salaberrios, now a pastor of New York's Infinity Bible Church. 'I'm living proof that when you grab somebody out of the pits of hell and you turn their life around, they can be great contributors to society.'