||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Two Sides of the Same Coin: Poverty and Crime
By: Dale Recinella
We continue to address Challenges for the Criminal Justice Process in the South,
the first of six pastoral letters on the criminal justice system issued by our Catholic Bishops in the South. Prior columns have confronted the problem of racial bias, and shown that what happens inside our prisons does not stay inside our prisons. Incarceration is so pervasive in our society that the attitudes and conditions of confinement find their way back into our communities, our neighborhoods and even our homes. The next issue which the Bishops tackle in this first letter is poverty.
The connection between poverty and crime in modern western society has been enunciated since at least the time of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. The most predictable companion to American poverty is poor educational systems. Some attribute this to property tax based funding of school districts, others to the inability to attract premium human resource capital to urban indigent, high crime areas or rural communities stricken by extreme poverty. Regardless of the preferred analysis, all agree that the cycle perpetuates itself and is multigenerational.
Our Southern Bishops focus upon the role of poverty in the criminal justice system, both as a contributing factor to crime and as an impairment of justice:
“Poor education is clearly part of the problem. Two out of every three state prison inmates had not completed high school. …
Public defender attorneys for poor people charged with crimes are usually overworked and underfunded. They are all too frequently unable to provide adequate legal representation. In rural areas, public defenders are often completely absent.”
This latter truth is captured in the much quoted punch line, “a person will get all the justice he can afford.” But justice is no laughing matter. It has a major role in our understanding of God’s order for society and the world. As people of faith, we are not at liberty to allow justice to be reduced to a market commodity. What are our instructions from our Church?
In Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have said:
“Sometimes people who lack adequate resources from early in life … turn to lives of crime in desperation or out of anger or confusion. Unaddressed needs … can be steppingstones on a path towards crime. Our role as Church is to continually work to address these needs through pastoral care, charity, and advocacy.”
Okay. Now we are getting uncomfortable. Is there an implication here that we who live above the level of need are supposed to do something about our neighbor’s poverty from our excess resources? The excess we have above the level of need is called “riches.” The Church does not dabble with mere implications about our duty. She is quite specific. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church quotes Saint Gregory the Great, at paragraph 329:
“The rich man … is only an administrator of what he possesses; giving what is required to the needy is a task that is to be performed with humility because the goods do not belong to the one who distributes them. He who retains riches only for himself is not innocent; giving to those in need means paying a debt.”
What would St. Gregory the Great say in response to the recent census reports that the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is continuing to widen? That the poverty rate in America has not seen a statistically significant decline since before the year 2000? That “the number of [Americans] without health insurance increased to 46.6 million in 2005.” Or that 19.6% of Floridians are living without health insurance.
I believe he would stand with our Southern Bishops saying, “We must seek new restorative approaches ... must continue to find new ways to respond to crime that are consistent with the love and truth of Jesus Christ.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, September 15
© 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
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
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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