Giving up Punishment for Lent

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus said to the repentant thief on the verge of dying from crucifixion. Dismas, as tradition refers to him, acknowledges that he is guilty and justly deserves his punishment, but, regardless, he asks for mercy. Jesus responds by offering him a different kind of justice—a justice not of punishment but of forgiveness and redemption. On the cross and near death himself, Jesus ushers in a justice of compassion and restoration for all creation.

In contrast, our modern day criminal justice system is not as compassionate or redemptive. It is a system designed to administer punishment and marginalize individuals rather than to restore the lives damaged by wrongdoing. This approach leads to harmful public policies and cycles of crime and incarceration that damage lives, destroy communities, and fail to offer restoration.

Community Renewal Society believes we are called to work towards creating a world that reflects the justice Jesus modeled on the cross. We respond to this call for social change through our organizing and policy work as we advocate for several important bills currently before the Illinois General Assembly.

Absolute Bars. Illinois state law makes it illegal for employers in schools, park districts, metropolitan transit, and healthcare to hire the candidates they feel are the best fit for the job. We are working with FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality), a project of CRS, and community leaders from partner organizations to remove life-time bans to employment in these industries for people with records. Removing these barriers will open the door to opportunities for thousands of individuals who have paid their debt to society and need employment to provide for their families.

Preliminary Hearing. Innocent people can be held in jails across Illinois for up to 30 days without being charged with a crime. We are working to reduce the length of time people wait in jail between being arrested and being formally charged at a preliminary hearing from 30 days to 10 days. Making this change this will result in releasing innocent people quicker and preventing the loss of jobs and housing, and damaging family relationships. This will also save resources that can be better used to fund community programs to address violence.

Mandatory Minimums. We continue our opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing, a policy that perpetuates the false idea that harsh punishment reduces crime. Mandatory minimum sentences do not consider circumstances, such as the age of the individual and severity of the crime, and disregard judges’ discretion in sentencing. Implementing these unnecessarily harsh punishments does not reduce violence, wastes resources, and disproportionately impacts people of color.

Through these efforts we stand in opposition to unjust policies and advocate for a justice system that reflects the values of forgiveness and restoration.

During this Lenten season, we urge you to join us in this quest for justice. On Tuesday, April 8, 2014 you can join over 600 leaders from CRS congregations who will board free buses to Springfield for CRS’ Day of Faith at the Capitol. We will put our faith into action by advocating for the removal of life-time barriers to employment and by standing up for the unjustly incarcerated. Sign up now to reserve your place on the bus.

We need your voice in Springfield. Each time you engage a legislator you make a witness to the justice of forgiveness and restoration that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. One conversation at a time, we can change minds, turn hearts, and transform our world.

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