Christian bodies divided on bipartisan prison reform bill

by Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Contributor |
A demonstrator holds up a sign during a rally held outside of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., to call for criminal justice reform and the passage of the FIRST STEP Act on July 10, 2018. | PHOTO: THE CHRISTIAN POST/SAMUEL SMITH

A Christian rift over the bipartisan prison reform bill — the First Step Act — is forming, with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA announcing its opposition.

NCC, which is an ecumenical body composed of largely liberal bodies, including various mainline Protestant denominations, explained on Friday that despite its support for reforming America's prison system, it finds the First Step Act to be "sorely lacking" on several fronts.

"The United States is home to 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population. The current mass incarceration crisis was birthed out of racist intentions, and we must be just as intentional about addressing the embedded racism if we are to have any meaningful reform. This bill does not move us any closer to justice on either issue," it stated.

NCC said that while it is encouraged to see both Republicans and Democrats supporting the end of mass incarceration, it is concerned about proposals to heavily use electronic monitoring.

"We must be proactive in ensuring that electronic surveillance does not morph into another form of mass incarceration. We are concerned that not only the privacy of the person wearing the monitor is violated, but that of their family and others in close proximity is as well," it said.

"Electronic monitoring provisions also shift the cost from the government to the directly impacted person which exacerbate economic disparities rooted in race and class. This and other provisions allow the privatization of certain public functions and feed into and build upon the already burgeoning for-profit prison industry."

Evangelical ministries have, meanwhile, come out in support of the bill. While acknowledging that the bill is not perfect, they view it as a solid first step toward prison reform, which includes reducing the federal recidivism rate.

Notable Christian ministries that are backing it include Prison Fellowship, the Christian Community Development Association, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Read more about prison reform on The Christian Post.