||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Suffer the Children
By: Dale Recinella
We continue to address the pastoral letters on the criminal justice system issued by our Catholic Bishops in the South.
We have already dealt in depth with the first letter (on the criminal justice system at large) and the second (on the moral quagmire of prison privatization). The third letter, “Suffer the Little Children…” Juvenile Justice in the South, deals with the politically hot issue of crime and minors. Our Catholic Bishops of the South know this subject is a hot-potato and begin their pastoral with a lengthy quote from the 2000 USCCB statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice:
We bishops cannot support policies that treat young offenders as though they are adults. The actions of the most violent youth leave us shocked and frightened and therefore they should be removed from society until they are no longer dangerous. But society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults, fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions. Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution. In many instances, such terrible behavior points to our own negligence in raising children with a respect for life, providing a nurturing and loving environment, or addressing serious mental or emotional illnesses.
The Catholic Bishops of the South then turn to the ramifications of this problem in our region of the country. The first issue is poverty. In prior installments in this series, we have looked at the connections between poverty and crime. Our bishops remind us that in several of our Southern states, at least one out of every five children grows up in poverty.
Extreme poverty is a serious contributor to crime. Fighting poverty, educating children, and supporting families are essential anti-crime strategies and we call on all people of good will to join in these efforts.
The bishops then cite the issue of excessive use of incarceration, noting that on any given day in the U.S. over 100,000 minors are in jails, prisons and juvenile correctional facilities. While acknowledging that there are some cases where an unusually violent child may require incarceration, the bishops advocate redirecting our resources into activities that strike at the roots of juvenile crime, such as rehabilitation, education, substance abuse treatment, and effective programs of probation, parole, and reintegration.
Many of the problems in the criminal justice system at large also are apparent in the portion of the system that deals with minors. With respect to over-representation of African-Americans in prisons, that is true of the juvenile system as well. The bishops point-out that while African-American youth represent only 15% of the juvenile population, they constitute “26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court [as adults], and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons.”
Our Catholic bishops also express deep concern over the ease with which children obtain access to handguns. After noting that the five states with the highest rate of gun ownership are in the South (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia), they cite a major Harvard School of Public Health Study which shows that
[C]hildren in those states, as compared with the children in the five states with the lowest level of gun ownership, were 16 times more likely to die of unintentional firearm injuries, 7 times as likely to die from firearm suicide, and 3 times more likely to die from firearm homicide.
For this reason, our bishops support controls on the sale and use of guns, as well as required safety features and prohibition of their unsupervised use by children.
In the coming installments of this column, we will examine these issues affecting juvenile in greater depth and scrutinize the facts under the sharp light of Catholic teaching.
First published: The Florida Catholic, February 22, 2008
© 2008 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