Former Prisoner, Now Criminal Justice Expert, Praises Holt v. Hobbs Decision

Justice Fellowship Policy Director Jesse Wiese, J.D., who himself was incarcerated during the early 2000s, issued the following statement on behalf of the criminal justice reform arm of Prison Fellowship regarding today’s Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs:

Justice Fellowship applauds today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs, which upheld the right of a Muslim prisoner to grow a half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. This is a clear endorsement and victory for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which sets a high standard for protecting religious liberty. This legislation, which our late founder, Chuck Colson, worked diligently with Congress to pass, properly prohibits the government from restricting a person’s religious liberty unless there is a compelling government interest and the government is using the least restrictive means in restricting that liberty.

“The history of America’s penology is deeply rooted in providing the opportunity for prisoners to make amends on both a religious and societal basis—to remove the ability to do so diminishes the value of the individual and has negative effects on public safety. In fact, allowing men and women to exercise their religious beliefs while incarcerated has been shown to increase public safety.

“During my incarceration, I was allowed to practice my faith in ways that would directly contribute to my success upon release. Unfortunately, prison seldom teaches men and women how to be good citizens and rarely affords the opportunities to practice the norms that society demands upon release. Having the freedom to exercise, or practice, my Christian faith—and having that activity constitutionally protected—afforded invaluable opportunities to practice good citizenship."

Justice Fellowship maintains that today’s Supreme Court ruling protects this freedom and sends a strong message of dignity and hope—both of which are desperately needed for the men and women in our nation’s prisons and jails.

MEDIA NOTE: Justice Fellowship’s Jesse Wiese, who benefited from the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when he was behind bars, is available to discuss the importance of this religious liberty case and its impact on prisoners. More commentary from Justice Fellowship, including a link to its amicus brief for this case, is available at this blog post.