This is the first in a series of six pastoral statements by Catholic
Bishops of the South on the Criminal Justice process and a gospel
"Our response to crime in the United States is a moral test for
our nation and a challenge for our Church." U.S.
Catholic Bishops statement, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and
Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,"
As pastoral leaders of the Roman Catholic community,
we would like to reflect with you on the themes of responsibility,
rehabilitation and restoration in light of the reality of crime and
criminal justice in our area of the country. In November 2000, all the
U.S. Catholic Bishops issued a national statement, "Responsibility,
Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and
As our 2000 statement said, no one can deny that
criminal behavior which threatens the lives and dignity of others
undermines our common good. But putting more people in prison and
putting more people to death has not given Americans the security we
seek. Our Catholic approach begins with the recognition that our belief
in the dignity of each human person applies to both victim and offender.
As Catholics, we are convinced that our tradition and our faith offer
better alternatives than the slogans and policy cliches of conservatives
Crime and the fear of crime touch many lives and
divide many communities. One out of every twenty-seven Americans
over the age of twelve is the victim of a violent crime each year. One
out of every four households suffers a property crime each year. African
American and Hispanic Americans are victimized by crime at far higher
rates than others. Thus, all of us have an important stake in making
sure that the victims of crime are supported and that the criminal
justice system become more responsive to their concerns.
Because the criminal justice system is so important,
it is critical to recognize that there are several indications that it
Too many of our people are in prison. The U.S.
now leads the entire world in the rate of incarceration of its citizens.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported a record high number of people,
almost 6.6 million, 3.1 percent of our nation’s population, were
either on probation or parole or held in a prison or jail as of 2001.
While the national average, state incarceration rate was 422 per 100,000
residents, the southern states had an incarceration rate of 526. All
seven of the states with the highest incarceration rates in the nation
are in the South.
There is evidence of racism in the criminal justice
system. In the age group 25-29, just over 1% of white males are in
state or federal prison, compared to 3% of Hispanic males and 10% of
African American males. Racial profiling of African Americans remains a
troubling practice in too many areas of law enforcement.
Poor education is clearly part of the problem.
Two out of every three state prison inmates had not completed high
school. There are now more black men in jail or prison than there are in
colleges or universities.
Public defender attorneys for poor people charged
with crimes are usually overworked and under funded. They are all
too frequently unable to provide adequate legal representation. In rural
areas, public defenders are often completely absent. Mandatory
sentencing laws reduce the discretion of judges to make the punishment
fit the crime and send increasing numbers of people to prison.
The ultimate punishment, the death penalty, has been
used far too often and in an unfair and unjust fashion. More than
80% of the persons executed in our country have been put to death in our
Southern states, and yet our region still has the highest murder rate in
our nation. This would indicate that the death penalty is not a
deterrent to murder. In addition, there is racial injustice in the
application of the death penalty in our country and in our region. An
African American offender who kills a white person is 22 times more
likely to be sentenced to death than a white offender who kills an
We must seek new, restorative approaches. We do
not suggest this is an easy process, but we must continue to find ways
to respond to crime that are consistent with the love and truth of Jesus
We ask our local church communities to reach out to
every victim of crime. We must work to assist in efforts of pastoral
counseling, support through the criminal justice process, and recovery
of loss. We further encourage exploration and development of
victim-offender mediation and reconciliation programs in our
We cannot sit quietly while executions continue. We
ask all people to join us in speaking out against the death penalty at
every opportunity and opposing it in every available forum.
Finally, we ask all people of good will to join us in
a thorough re-examination of our criminal justice system. When we
respond to the evils of crime we must do so in a manner that is
consistent with our commitment to the essential human dignity of each
person, whether they be victims of crime or offenders. We call on all
people of faith to pray, study and act in order to transform every
unjust aspect of our current criminal justice system so that it respects
the essential human dignity of each and every victim and each and every
Only when our criminal justice system reflects
the love and truth of Jesus Christ will our communities be
truly safe and just.
Bishop Robert Baker
Bishop William Friend
Bishop John Favalora Charlotte,
Bishop John Nevins
Bishop John McRaith
Rev. Sean O’Malley
Bishop Kevin Boland
Archbishop John Donoghue
Bishop Edward Kmeic
Bishop Curtis Guillory
Bishop David Fellhauer
Bishop Sam Jacobs
Bishop Norbert Dorsey
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza
Bishop Joseph Gossman
Bishop William Houck
Bishop Gregory Aymond
Bishop Roger Foys
Bishop Peter Sartain
Bishop Terry Steib
Rev. Robert Neiberding
Bishop Robert Lynch
St. Petersburg, FL
Bishop Victor Galeone
Bishop John Yanta
Bishop Edward Braxton
Bishop John Delaney
Fort Worth, TX
Bishop John Ricard
Bishop Alvaro Corrada
Bishop Charles Grahmann
Bishop Edmond Carmody
Corpus Christi, TX
Bishop Paul Loverde
Sentencing Project, "New Prison
Population Figures: Crisis and Opportunity," August 2002. This
analysis shows the USA leads all nations in the rate of incarceration
with 686 per 100,000. Russia is second with 644 per 100,000.
2 "U.S. Correctional population at record high,"
3 Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin,
PRISONERS IN 2001, Table 4, released July 2002.
4 Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, PRISONERS IN 2001,
Table 6, released July 2002 reported that the states with the highest
incarceration rates were: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma,
Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, and Arizona.
5 Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, PRISONERS IN 2001,
page 12, released July 2002.
6 "Facts About Prisons and Prisoners," The Sentencing
7 Fox Butterfield, "Black men in jail exceed
collegians," NYT, 8-28-02.
8 Death Penalty Information Center. The South has executed 646
people, while the West has executed 59, the Midwest 86, and the