Prison Abolition Movement

While prisons surely have problems, abolishing them and retaining all criminals freely in the community, which is essentially what the abolitionist movement calls for, would create a level of community crime unseen in this country.

Prisons work in protecting the public from the criminals that are locked up in them and that is enough reason for prisons; though clearly, we should always work to make prisons more humane but never make them less confining.

An article in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Society makes the case of prison abolition, starting with women’s prisons.

Abstract with link to article at the jump.

Because the U.S. is unable to prevent widespread sexual violations of incarcerated women, it should apply the prescriptions of a recent U.K. female prison abolitionist movement as the most effective and humane solution to the problem. Part I of this article examines the mass incarceration, composition, and sexual victimization of U.S. female prisoners. Part II evaluates the most recent attempt to stop the sexual victimization of U.S. prisoners under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Part III presents the U.K. abolitionist solution and the small, though notable, consensus of support that developed around it. Part IV contends that, because neither the Prison Rape Elimination Act nor any previous law has adequately protected prisoners from sexual abuse, the incarceration of women is unconscionable when adequate prison alternatives of support programs and community care are available. This Part also argues against alternatives rooted in retaliation and violence. The article concludes with hope: it argues that the best response to chaotic brutality is not calculated brutality, but humanity.

Retrieved April 15, 2014 from

Hat tip to Crime & Consequences Blog at

Christ’s Descent into Hell

A beautiful reflection on the same, from Crisis Magazine.

An excerpt.

The second reading from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday is taken from an ancient homily on Christ’s descent into hell. It begins: “Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.” The King fell asleep when His soul was separated from His body on Good Friday afternoon. He remained asleep until His soul reanimated His body on Easter morning. But during the silence and stillness of the King’s sleep, He harrowed hell.

Our Lord’s descent into hell is well attested to by divine revelation. For example, Christ says, “… as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth” (Mt. 12:40). Further, in Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter says, “[David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (2:31). Likewise in the Apostles’ Creed we profess, “He descended into hell.”

Besides making clear that the soul of Christ descended into hell, these texts clearly refer the descent into hell to the Person of Christ. And this is supremely fitting. For, since the personal union of the Word of God with both His body and soul remained even after death, whatever could be attributed to either of these principles of His human nature, while they were separated, was also attributable to God the Son. Thus, in the Apostles’ Creed we profess that He (i.e., God the Son) was buried insofar as His body was placed in the tomb. In like manner, we profess that God the Son descended into hell on account of His soul going to the underworld.

Connected with this, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that it is even true to say that “during the three days of His death, the whole Christ was in the tomb, in hell, and in heaven, on account of His Person, which was united to His body lying in the tomb, and to His soul harrowing hell, and which was subsisting in His divine nature reigning in heaven” (Compendium theologiae, ch. 229). Indeed, insofar as by His divine immensity the Son of God comprehends or contains all things, we must affirm that the whole Person of Christ is both in every place and in all places put together, yet He is not wholly contained by any one place nor by all places put together (Summa theologiae, III, q 52, a. 3, ad 3um).

Retrieved April 17, 2014 from

Understanding the Holy Father

An excellent reflection on the mind and words of Pope Francis, from Chiesa.

An excerpt.

ROME, April 15, 2014 – From the dicastery heads of the Roman curia called to report at the beginning of this month of April, Pope Francis wanted to hear just one thing, summarized as follows in the official statement: “the reflections and reactions raised in the different dicasteries by the apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ and the perspectives opened for its implementation.”

The fact that “Evangelii Gaudium” is essentially the action plan of the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now beyond all doubt.

But it is precisely for this reason that understanding it is so important. And at the same time so difficult. Because the form in which “Evangelii Gaudium” is written is not at all in keeping with the classical canons of the ecclesiastical magisterium, just like the everyday public discourse of Pope Francis.

In the analysis published as an exclusive below, Paul-Anthony McGavin maintains that Francis shuns abstractions, prohibits what he calls “cold syllogisms,” and instead loves thinking and action that are “holistic,” or all-encompassing. And he shows how precisely this is the novelty of method in “Evangelii Gaudium.”

Retrieved April 15, 2014 from

The Silent Penitentiary

The silent system of Eastern State Penitentiary in the 19th century was conducive to rehabilitation.

Though the silent system was discontinued pretty much everywhere by early in the last century, the reports of recidivism rates we have from its use suggest a rate of less than 10%, as noted by Skotnicki (2000):

“Prior to the Civil War, the rates of reconviction were consistently less than 10%, with the data from the Eastern Penitentiary being the lowest.”

Skotnicki, A. (2000). Religion and the Development of the American Penal System. New York: University Press of America. (p. 145)

This article from Governing examines the system.

An excerpt.

Nearly 185 years ago, several Philadelphia men took up residence in an imposing stone structure in Cherry Hill, a pastoral setting just two miles from the city center. There, they would spend an average of two or three years alone, in complete meditative silence. With only a bed and a Bible, each was expected to devote every waking hour to self-contemplation and his relationship with God.

But this was no monastery and these were not monks. They were the first prisoners admitted to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which began construction in 1821 and opened eight years later. Architect John Haviland was instructed to “convey to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls.” With its 80-foot bell tower, 30-foot walls and 27-foot-tall iron-studded oak doors, the building resembled a massive fortress. The only larger building in the country at the time was the U.S. Capitol.

As foreboding as it was, Eastern State was designed from the beginning to implement new, more humane theories about crime and punishment. Presaging many of today’s arguments on corrections reform, the emphasis was much less on punishment and more on rehabilitation. Philadelphians, drawing on their Quaker roots, had long argued for better treatment of prisoners. They believed that if prisoners were left alone in complete silence, with nothing to occupy their minds but thoughts of their misdeeds, they would become genuinely penitent. (Hence, the building was known as a “penitentiary.”)

The place was utterly silent. Guards walked the halls with socks over their shoes. The wheels on the wagons that brought food down the long corridors were covered in leather. For 23 hours of every day, inmates were confined to a 7.5- by-12-foot cell with a church-like vaulted ceiling and small skylight. For the remaining hour they were allowed outside within their own small exercise area. Inmates in adjoining cells were never allowed outside at the same time, and any communication between prisoners was strictly forbidden.

Retrieved April 13, 2014 from

Capital Punishment & Cell Phones in Prison

One of the points we made in our book “Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support”, in response to the capital punishment abolition movement in favor of life in prison, is that criminals, who are very resourceful, will still find a way to commit crimes; as this story from ABC News reports.

An excerpt.

A North Carolina prison inmate used a smuggled mobile phone to keep in touch with kidnappers holding the father of a prosecutor who helped send him away for life, federal authorities said.

Five people were arrested and Frank Arthur Janssen, a Wake Forest man whose daughter prosecutes violent crimes, was rescued late Wednesday following a raid by the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team on an Atlanta apartment.

During the abduction, the kidnappers took a picture of Janssen tied up in a chair and sent it to his wife, threatening to torture and dismember him if she went to police, the FBI said in court documents.

Janssen’s kidnapping was related to his daughter’s prosecution of Kelvin Melton, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the shooting of a man in 2011, said John Strong, the FBI’s agent in charge for North Carolina.

Authorities say Melton, 49, had a mobile phone in his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, exchanging at least 123 calls and text messages with the alleged kidnappers in the past week. Authorities closed in on the suspects by tracking their mobile phones and listening to their calls.

According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 21-year-old subordinate to travel to Raleigh and kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, the first being a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14.

The admitted triggerman, Jamil Herring Gressett, testified that he followed Melton’s orders for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn’t. The victim survived a gunshot wound.

Retrieved April 11, 2014 from

Jesus’s wife?

According to this story from the Boston Globe,the controversial ancient text is not a modern forgery.

An excerpt.

New scientific tests have turned up no evidence of modern forgery in a text written on ancient Egyptian papyrus that refers to Jesus as being married, according to a long-awaited article to be published Thursday in the Harvard Theological Review.

The findings support the argument of Harvard professor Karen L. King that the controversial text, the first-known explicit reference to a married Jesus, is almost certainly an authentic document.

The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was introduced to the world by King at a conference in Rome 18 months ago. The announcement made headlines around the world, and many of King’s academic peers, as well as the Vatican newspaper, swiftly dismissed it as a fake.

King maintains the document was probably part of a debate among early Christians about the role of women, family, and celibacy in spiritual life.

The results of a carbon dating test found that the papyrus probably dates to eighth-
century Egypt, about 400 years later than King originally thought, but still in ancient times.

Retrieved April 10, 2014 from

College Education in Prison

As this article from the New York Times notes, providing college education to prisoners is incongruent with the struggle many college students have—who have committed no crime—paying for college.

It is a good argument, but still, Lampstand supports college education programs in prison, and a policy solution might be to tie-in the future jobs college educated prisoners get to public service for a defined period.

For instance, having college educated released prisoners working in programs helping reform other criminals, might be a start.

An excerpt from the New York Times article.

IN February, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced plans to underwrite college classes in 10 state prisons, building on the success of privately funded and widely praised programs like the Bard Prison Initiative. Mr. Cuomo pointed out that inmates who got an education had a much better chance of finding a job and were much less likely to menace their neighbors after release. He noted that the cost — $5,000 per inmate per year — would be a bargain compared with the $60,000 it costs to incarcerate a prisoner for a year.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal was a baby step: $1 million in a corrections budget of $2.8 billion. It was also a bolt from the blue, announced as an applause line to a receptive audience of minority legislators without any advance work. And when the first, predictable bleats of resistance were heard, the governor dropped the college initiative from his budget.

The punch lines of the opposing politicians (mostly Republicans, but some Democrats) all struck the same theme: How dare the governor offer taxpayer money to educate convicted criminals when decent citizens skimp and borrow to send their kids to college? “It should be ‘do the crime, do the time,’ not ‘do the crime, earn a degree,’ ” said George D. Maziarz, a state senator from western New York. “It is simply beyond belief to give criminals a competitive edge in the job market over law-abiding New Yorkers who forgo college because of the high cost.” In other words, let criminals be criminals.

Retrieved April 10, 2014 from

Capital Punishment, How to End it

The strategy for doing so, and why it is wrong, is revealed in this article from the New York Times.

An excerpt.

Here’s the current constitutional strategy to ban capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment: Persuade the United States Supreme Court that society’s ”evolving standards of decency” have culminated in a national consensus opposing the death penalty. Point to a uniform direction of change: Six states have recently abolished capital punishment; none have newly adopted it. Opinion polls show a drop in public support, confirmed by a declining number of death sentences issued and carried out. Point out that European democracies that “share our values” have eliminated their death penalty. (Ignore the fact that European elites banned capital punishment in the teeth of overwhelming public support for it that continues to this day.) Meanwhile press state legislatures to appoint abolitionist “study commissions,” then follow their pre-ordained recommendations, until fewer than 25 states retain death as punishment. By that point, a fifth newly appointed justice will join the current abolitionist four, and a bare majority may rule that “decency” has truly “evolved” to the point where a genuine American “consensus” now exists that a punishment of death violates human dignity and thus also the Eighth Amendment.

That’s their dream, their plan, their scheme.

It might succeed, though based on false premises and misperception. When pollsters seek the appropriate punishment for the worst of the worst – a man who rapes and tortures a child, a serial killer, a depraved mass murderer such as Timothy McVeigh, etc. – overwhelmingly the people choose death as deserved. Many who prefer life without parole wrongly imagine that sadistic or callous killers experience prison as a daily punishment worse than death. My thousands of hours inside maximum-security prisons these past 30 years contradict this: Inside prison, prisoners and officers alike reject punishment.

Retrieved April 8, 2014 from

Two Popes

Having a resigned pope and a current pope, within St. Peter at the same time, is a new and wonderful situation for the Church, and this very nice reflection from Chiesa examines it.

An excerpt.

ROME, April 7, 2014 – The more the months go by, the more Benedict XVI’s resignation of the papacy manifests its exceptional novelty.

Other popes before him had resigned: the last was Gregory XII, in 1415. But Joseph Ratzinger was the first to want to be called “pope emeritus” and to continue to wear the white robe “within the precincts of Saint Peter,” bewildering the canonists and bringing fears of the installation of a diarchy of two popes at the summit of the Church:

Notice of Danger: A Church with Two Popes

Of course, Ratzinger no longer has the powers of pontiff of the universal Church: he stripped himself of them by exercising for the last time and in the highest degree precisely his powers as “vicarius Christi.” But neither did he return to being what he was before he was pope. After these two “embodiments” he now has a third that has no precedent in the history of the Church. It is the new “embodiment,” the new state of life that he sees as connected to the commitment “forever” taken on with the acceptance of his election as successor of Peter.

This is what he explained at his last general audience on February 27, 2013, the eve of his resignation of the papacy:

“Allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church. In a manner of speaking, the private dimension of his life is completely eliminated. [. . .]

“The ‘always’ is also a ‘for ever’ – there can no longer be a return to the private sphere. My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. Saint Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way for a life which, whether active or passive, is completely given over to the work of God.”

Retrieved April 7, 2014 from

Living Wage

Supporting the living wage being established as the minimum wage—based on the economics of each region rather than a hard number—is a sound strategy, which, not only helps recently released prisoners, but also can contribute to the economy by increasing the number of households that will be created because individuals would be able to pay prevailing rents, whereas those working on minimum wages as now established, cannot.

The vastly increased number of households would all be buying goods to furnish their new homes and the economy would benefit.

The Catholic position can be accessed in this two page statement from the USCCB, and from this 40 slide power point presentation at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57 other followers