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Justice Forum offers teachable moment

It was no coincidence that an Incarceration Forum billed as “A Catholic Response to Mass Incarceration” was held the same weekend and in the same city as the annual Congress of the American Correctional Association, a large national organization for the prison industry.

Criminal justice ministers in the Belleville Diocese and St. Louis Archdiocese planned it that way.

The Diocese of Belleville Prison Ministry worked with the St. Louis Archdiocese to plan the concurrent event—a teachable moment, they called it—during the ACA’s mid-August meeting in St. Louis.

According to Father Christian Reuter, OFM, coordinator of the Belleville Diocese Prison Ministry and Our Brothers Keepers, the ACA is a huge event that attracts a large number of companies and thousands of individuals associated with the ever-growing industry of incarceration in the United States.

The association has long been criminology’s flagship organization. Through most of it history, in its meetings and scholarly journals, ACA has been the forum in which the policies and practices of governmental punishment could be professionally and dispassionately debated. But as the prison industry has grown exponentially, the ACA has morphed into a trade association for prison operators and vendors.

“For the annual Congress it shamelessly recruits corporate sponsors, who in turn use the occasion for contracts and influence,” said Father Reuter. “This prison-industrial complex has primary allegiance to its shareholders and cannot be expected to endorse meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, on the campus of St. Louis University, about 75 persons were attending the Incarceration Forum. The forum’s speakers sought to highlight solutions for mass incarceration that scholarly journals, ACA has been the forum in which the policies and practices of governmental punishment could be professionally and dispassionately debated, said Father Reuter. But as the prison industry has grown exponentially, the ACA has morphed into a trade association for prison operators and vendors.

“For the annual Congress it shamelessly recruits corporate sponsors, who in turn use the occasion for contracts and influence,” said Father Reuter. “This prison-industrial complex has primary allegiance to its shareholders and cannot be expected to endorse meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, on the campus of St. Louis University, about 75 persons were attending the Incarceration Forum. The forum’s speakers sought to highlight solutions for mass incarceration that are consistent with the social justice teachings of the Church. Panelists discussed the school to prison pipeline, race, poverty and sentencing, health and mental health and employment after release.

Organizers drew attention to crucial issues that must be addressed for effective reforms to happen, especially the high costs of incarceration to all stakeholders.

Illinois spends $1.4 billion a year for its department of corrections.

“I think the best fallout from the forum was how it puts us in a better position to network in the future as we face these important issues,” Father Reuter said. “Too often groups such as we are working in their little silos. It was important for us to come together.”

For more information about the Prison Ministry and their upcoming programs call 618-482-5570 or 618-234-8334.

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