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Catholic Bishops Issue Call for Prison Reform

From U.S. Catholic Magazine, June 1998

"The rehabilitation of inmates is the ideal that we believe should be pursued as thoroughly as possible.. . . When an inmate returns to prison, it is a sign that we have all failed."

We offer the following practical recommendations:

1. Expand treatment for low-risk offenders in a community-based setting wherever possible.

2. We recommend that there be a separation between the violent and nonviolent offenders as well as a separation of those inmates committed to rehabilitation from these who show no interest in reform. Models of therapeutic communities should be fostered.

3. Viable education, as well as behavior modification and treatment programs, need to be made available to those who are willing to commit themselves to them.

4. Effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs need to be in place if we are to lessen the rate of recidivism..

5. The state needs to commit itself to contribute to a successful transition of a released inmate to his or her family and community.

6. The Corrections Department should seriously consider developing a victim awareness program inside the prisons as well as in our communities. Victim awareness programs. . . contribute to the process of healing for the victim and reformation of the offender.

7. We call for a dialogue between officials of the New Mexico Department of Corrections and religious leaders of the state in order to promote a more collaborative relationship.

We recall that Jesus Christ had the experience of an inmate. The night before he died, he was jailed and physically abused. He eventually suffered the capital punishment of his day, the crucifixion. He died, in the eyes of civil authorities, a criminal who had been found guilty by the judges of his day. Among the priorities in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ is the concern for the imprisoned. In Matthew 25, he... identified [with] the jailed. "I was in jail and you visited me . . just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matt. 25:40).

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