April 28, 2014 — The Society of Jesus in the United States is calling on the U.S. Senate to end “one-size-fits-all sentencing policies” that fail to address the complexity of our nation’s criminal justice system. In a letter co-signed by Father Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference; Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries; and Father Michael Kennedy, S.J., executive director of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, senators are being urged to support the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014.
Sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Smarter Sentencing Act aims to save billions spent on non-violent drug offenders by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, permitting federal prisoners jailed for crack cocaine offenses to seek fairer punishments under current law and allowing judges to evaluate penalties for non-violent drug offenses in light of the circumstances of each case.
According to Matt Cuff, policy associate for the Jesuit Conference, numerous victims’ rights groups, think tanks, religious groups, law enforcement, the ACLU and many other organizations are advocating for a full Senate vote on the act, which has significant bipartisan support. Other organizations supporting the legislation include Catholic Charities USA and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Many of the people the Jesuits work with have spent more time than is necessary behind bars for non-violent offenses,” said Cuff. “We know that the longer someone spends behind bars, the more difficult re-integrating into society becomes. Reforming sentencing policies so that those individuals who have not committed violent crimes have the opportunity to return to society sooner is both a matter of justice and a common sense approach to reduce recidivism and help people build new lives after they have served appropriate sentences for their crimes.”
The three Jesuits who signed the letter have deep, personal connections to this issue. As the president of the Jesuit Conference, Fr. Smolich represents the Society of Jesus in the United States and its many ministries that provide support to those living at the margins. Fr. Boyle founded Homeboy Industries to serve high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women with a continuum of free services and programs, including job-training sites. Fr. Kennedy is the founder of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, an organization that strives to heal broken relationships with those who are incarcerated and their families as well as victims of crime and their families through prayer, education, and advocacy.
“Pope Francis recently reminded us that, ‘God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else,’” Frs. Boyle, Kennedy and Smolich wrote. “We join the Pope’s call by advocating for sentencing policies that lead to healing, restoration, and hope.”
Read a PDF of the letter by clicking here.