The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and For Profit Prisons:
Key Points in the Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For Profit Prisons
Approved by the 215th General Assembly (2003)
1. The PC(USA) has called for the use of incarceration as a last resort.
A 1978 statement on The Church and Criminal Justice reflected on the belief that “restraint may be necessary to limit or prevent behavior that is dangerous to others” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 199). Yet it noted that the ultimate objective of the criminal justice system should be “one of reconciliation rather than one of retribution” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202), including punitive measures taken against prisoners. It also held that “imprisonment should not be used as the principle means to achieve community protection and well being” (Minutes, PCUS, 1978, Part I, p. 202).
2. The PC(USA) has called upon the church to protect the health, safety and legal rights of offenders, which are routinely violated at private prisons.
The following are two examples of violent “business as usual” at CCA:
• William P., a fifteen-year-old boy had to be hospitalized in a state psychiatric ward for an entire year after spending six months at the CCA Training School in Columbia, South Carolina. A lawsuit filed against the company described a pattern of abusive treatment, including hogtying William and locking him in a cell with larger, older males known for victimizing youth as a form of “punishment.” The jury awarded the family $3 million, citing a pattern of criminal misconduct by the company. (More information: [2-2-1-1 CCA PP Metroland 5-15-00]. PDF of verdict: http://www.afscme.org/private/ prisons/suit-sc.pdf)
• Salah Dafali, an asylum-seeker, was detained in a CCA’s Elizabeth, New Jersey, detention center. Dafali was beaten by guards for participating in a nonviolent protest and sent to a local hospital where doctors found boot-print marks on his face. (More information: [http://www.psiru.org/justice/ppriarchive/ppri29-04-99.htm] Bergen Record coverage [http://220.127.116.11/news/caguard199904193.htm]).
3. Existing PC(USA) policy calls for the rehabilitation of prisoners and their reintegration into society, a goal antithetical to those of for profit prisons who seek to keep their facilities full.
o In agreement with the statements of the 1910 and 1915 General Assemblies, we believe that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be “restorative justice”: “addressing the hurts and the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community in such a way that all—victim, offender, and community—might be healed” (Resolution on Restorative Justice, Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 576). We realize that, given the limits of our knowledge and understanding at this time, some may need to be incarcerated for life because they are a danger to themselves and others. But we hope that in the future, advances in working with such prisoners through spiritual, medical, rehabilitative, psychological, and educational techniques may some day make it possible for every prisoner to be successfully rehabilitated and restored to their community and family.
o In a humane society, in a democratic society, there are some things that can never be for sale, even and especially when they involve “one of the least of these followers of mine.”
These things include:
• take away another human being’s freedom;
• separate them from other human beings;
• prevent them from communicating in any way with others; and
• use of physical force against them, up to and including deadly force.
o Even if for-profit private prisons could achieve significant cost savings to the taxpayer, which in fact they have not been able to do, they would still be morally unacceptable. Private prisons are not an economic but a deep religious and ethical issue, a cornerstone of our collective work to put justice back into the so-called “criminal justice system.”
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