1,100 clergy, religious leaders call for sentencing reform

1,100 clergy, religious leaders call for sentencing reform in federal drug cases
Point to racial injustices, overcrowding of prisons due to nonviolent infractions, urge Congress to pass Smarter Sentencing Act


Wayne Rhodes
Director of Communications
General Board of Church & Society
(202) 488-5630 / wrhodes@umc-gbcs.org

Kara Gotsch
Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group
(202) 488-5628 / kgotsch@umc-gbcs.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 1,100 faith leaders urged the U.S. Congress today to support a bipartisan sentencing reform bill to reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. The Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410/HR 3382) passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January and is poised for a vote by the Senate. The legislation would alleviate dangerous prison overcrowding and racial disparity in incarceration.

The letter, sent to all members of Congress today, is endorsed by leaders affiliated with more than 40 faith groups. Endorsers include Roman Catholics, Jews, Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants. Many of the endorsers are clergy who work in organizations focused on criminal-justice reform or human services. Most of the signers are clergy in local congregations in nearly every state.

Included among the group of interfaith endorsers was:

  • The Rev. Gregory Boyle, SJ, founder and executive director, Homeboy Industries
  • Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director for NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • The Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary for the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society
  • The Rev. Carlos Malavé, executive director, Christian Churches Together
  • The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary for American Baptist Churches USA
  • The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
  • Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners
  • Jim Winkler, president, National Council of Churches, USA

The letter from the faith community comes on the eve of a national campaign by secular and religious organizations to secure a vote on the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing legislation. For example, Wednesday, June 4, grassroots advocates of the Smarter Sentencing Act will call senators to ask for their support and influence in bringing the legislation to the floor for a vote.

Nearly 30 years have passed since Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that established mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenses. The size and expense of the federal prison system has grown substantially, as a result. The federal system is the largest in the United States holding 217,000 prisoners, half of whom are incarcerated for a drug offense. Fewer than 8% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for a violent crime.

Faith communities are concerned about the impact of excessive sentences on individuals and their families. Those leaving incarceration often haven’t had adequate rehabilitation, their absence has strained family relationships, and the prolonged disconnect from communities has made finding employment exceedingly difficult.

The faith leaders’ letter states:

We are reminded that Scripture commands us, “Justice, and only justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). The Smarter Sentencing Act is a step towards addressing racial injustice as well as reducing mass incarceration that characterizes our current justice system.

To read the rest of today’s letter from clergy and faith leaders go to Faith Leaders Letter on Smarter Sentencing Act.

The letter was coordinated by the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, a coalition of 43 faith organizations chaired by the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.

For more information, contact Kara Gotsch, (202) 488-5628, email: kgotsch@umc-gbcs.org; or Bill Mefford, (202) 488-5657, email: bmefford@umc-gbcs.org.