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Aug 06, 2015 | Jim Goodson

Brothers Back Restorative Justice

 

Halfway house would help offenders avoid the ‘prison industrial complex’

 

One of the nation’s top criminal justice experts lauded the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s dedication to restorative justice during a June meeting in Philadelphia.

 

Dr. Edwin Davis

Edwin Davis, PhD, is chairman of Restorative Justice Ministries of Texas and coordinator of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ Restorative Justice Ministries. Davis leads the 150-inmate Brotherhood chapter at the Wayne Scott Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in South Texas. He spoke to Brothers attending the ministry’s triennial conference at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, where he was elected the Brotherhood’s Vice President of Restorative Justice Ministries.

 

“The way our nation handles criminal justice wounds victims and offenders alike,” Davis said. “Because we are turning our prisons over to corporate America, there is no incentive to reduce recidivism rates. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The more prisoners society creates, the better it is for these businesses.

 

“President Eisenhower would have called it the prison industrial complex.”

 

Davis noted that only Russia and China have higher incarceration rates. And no state has more prisoners than Texas, which had 24 prisons in 1990 and 112 today. “There are more prisons in Texas than the entire continent of Europe.

 

“Your plans for a restorative justice center will play a role in reducing the recidivism rates in Texas prisons. The prisons themselves have no incentive to do anything. They profit from people returning to prison.”

 

After a year of planning, Brothers will apply for tax-exempt status from the IRS and seek a site for a halfway house to help recently paroled inmates make a successful return to civilian life.

 

“Prison ministries are just a piece of the puzzle,” Davis said. “Places such as the Brotherhood Restorative Justice Center are sorely needed for those with no family to return to.” It’s needed even for those who do have families because current laws disallow convicted felons from living in public housing.

 

“So where does a man go whose family lives in public housing?” Davis asked. “This is just one example of how flawed our system is. Restorative justice is about restoring families, even dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional families produce fewer criminals than having no family does.”

 

He added: “Restorative justice helps the victims as well as the offenders. After time in prison, most offenders want to apologize to the victim. But under Texas law it’s a felony for the offender to communicate in any way with the victim. It’s the same in 17 states.

 

“There’s no opportunity for redemption.”

 

Davis recommended that Brotherhood chapters adopt an inmate who is soon to be paroled.

 

“It takes more than one person to counsel an inmate,” he said. “I’d recommend at least three to five Brothers to mentor each prisoner. They will not be up to date on the latest technology, they will be extremely needy and whatever outside church they attend will not be as satisfying as their prison church.”

 

Switching topics, Davis said our society must find a way to end the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

 

“This is a direct result of turning school discipline over to police departments,” he said. “Kids are being handcuffed and arrested for things you and I would get three licks for. Once they have a felony conviction, they can’t get jobs.”

 

More problems stem from the widespread use of plea bargains.

 

“So we are sending people to prison for a crime they did not commit. A big part of restorative justice has to do with accountability,” Davis said. “Offenders must take responsibility for their actions. But our current legal system doesn’t allow this to happen by ignoring the real criminal act and sending people to prison for something they didn’t do.”

 

The rest of the world’s civilized nations utilize restorative justice techniques to rebuild human lives, he said.

 

“All of Europe, including the Eastern bloc of nations that were a part of the old Soviet Union, use restorative justice,” Davis explained. “So does New Zealand and Australia.

 

“It’s time that we listen to God’s word and turn to restorative justice,” Davis said. “One way to start is to designate the last Sunday in Advent as Restorative Justice Sunday and preach about Matthew 25:36: I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came unto me.

 

Davis was appointed to head the national council’s restorative justice ministry.

                 

Goodson is editor of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s publication St. Andrew’s Cross. He can be reached at

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