||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Give Us the Facts Please
By: Dale Recinella
Catholics are charged with the duty to hold the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
Faith and reason require that we apply the revealed truth of Tradition and Scripture to the facts of our life in this world. Therefore, as we address the series of pastoral letters on the criminal justice process issued by our Catholic Bishops in the South, we must be aware that secular reporting on American criminal justice is besot with politically driven conclusions that are inconsistent with the facts.
For example, a prior column discussed the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Herrera: after death penalty cases have gone on for a while, the executive branch, not the courts, is to deal with late discovered evidence. In other words, governors should serve as safety backup to the courts.
On June 5, 2006 Virginia’s Catholic Governor, Timothy Kaine, delayed an execution for six months to determine if the condemned man is too mentally ill to be executed. Governor Kaine appears to have acted exactly as he should under the directions of the U.S. Supreme Court. But one would never know that from the press reports. Pro-death penalty politicians have castigated Kaine, claiming that his action “defeats the entire judicial process.”
Such Orwellian doublespeak is typical in the area of American criminal justice. Truth is frequently put in play while those seeking to confuse, deceive and manipulate the voters disseminate focus group-tested sound bites. Twist and spin peddled as reality. Facts are nowhere in sight.
It is a welcome relief to receive the national report Confronting Confinement issued on June 8, 2006 by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons. The bi-partisan group has met for over a year and held hearings in Tampa, FL, Newark, NJ, St. Louis, MO and Los Angeles, CA. Its members include Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, those employed in corrections, those who advocate for inmates from outside corrections, judges, scholars, and citizens involved in the administration of criminal justice.
The Commission’s findings and recommendations parallel many of the concerns of the Catholic Bishops of the South.
For starters, the Bishops state that crime and violence are far too common in our American communities and that “too many of our people are in prison.” The Commission report echoes this noting that, on any given day, more than 2.2 million people are in jail or prison in the U.S. “Over the course of a year, 13.5 million people spend time in jail or prison and 95 percent of them eventually return to our communities.”
Recidivism, the term used when a released prisoner commits crimes again, is directly related to numerous aspects of incarceration. What’s done in prison is related to what happens when people get out of prison. The report addresses violence in prison, the use of segregation cells (solitary confinement), failure to treat mental illness, and lack of rehabilitation or skills training.
Are these issues a concern in our part of the country? Absolutely. The Bishops of the South note that the “average state incarceration rate was 422 per 100,000 residents” but the southern states had a rate of 526. The seven states with highest incarceration rates are all Southern states. The Commission reports that the problems of greatest concern are present in Florida, just like in other states.
Prisons are a major component of our criminal justice system. Policing and prevention, investigation, identification and accusation, prosecution and defense, adjudication and disposition, and supervision and incarceration are all components of the complex social, legal and cultural reality which we call “criminal justice.”
The justice system needs tremendous work. Our Catholic Bishops of the South have issued the call for us to become part of the solution:
“As Catholics, we are convinced that our tradition and our faith offer better alternatives than the slogans and policy clichés of conservatives and liberals.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, June 23, 2006
© 2006 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed