Prison Fellowship Stresses Importance of Human Dignity in Criminal Justice Reform

Craig DeRoche Testifies Before Senate Committee

Craig DeRoche, executive director of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship’s criminal justice advocacy arm, testified Monday before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on historic reform legislation that provides a restorative approach to criminal justice.

“The sentencing reforms included in the legislation are of particular significance to the faith community because greater-than-warranted punishment disparages human dignity,” DeRoche said during his testimony.

Photo Credit: Office of Sen. John Cornyn
Photo Credit: Office of Sen. John Cornyn

The recently introduced Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, with bipartisan sponsorship and support, moves toward a more proportionate system of criminal punishment.

The bill also directs the Department of Justice to expand recidivism reduction programming, such as drug rehabilitation, education, work programs and faith-based classes for all federal prisoners.

“We believe the faith community can and should play a significant role in delivering these programs,” DeRoche said. “Faith-based programs have shown significant reductions in recidivism.”

An intensive Prison Fellowship program in Minnesota has shown, for example, a 26 percent decrease for re-arrest and a 40 percent decrease for re-incarceration for a new crime. 

The bill addresses a variety of criminal justice issues by combining new ideas and provisions from several previously introduced bills. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 requires the Bureau of Prisons to assign programs based on the risks and needs of men and women in federal prisons. In exchange for completing programs proven to reduce the likelihood of them committing another crime, lower-risk prisoners can earn time toward pre-release custody. It expands eligibility for the federal safety valve and reduces mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancements for additional people convicted of drug offenses. The bill also includes reforms to address juveniles in the federal system, the need for an inventory of federal crimes and more accurate FBI background checks, among others. 

“This agreement would never have come together without the faith community pressing as hard as it did for reform,” DeRoche said when the bill was introduced. “Criminal justice reform is a top priority not only for Prison Fellowship, but also for dozens of other faith-based organizations. This legislation moves the federal system to a more restorative model that should awaken America to the value of human lives affected by crime and incarceration.”

DeRoche’s entire remarks, as submitted for the record, can be found here.

In 1983, the late Chuck Colson founded Justice Fellowship less than a decade after founding Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. Justice Fellowship’s mission is to reform the justice system according to biblical restorative justice principles so that communities are safer, victims are respected and those who have committed crimes are transformed. Colson and Justice Fellowship have played a leading role in working with members of Congress to pass groundbreaking justice reforms, including the: 

  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act
  • Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
  • Prison Rape Elimination Act
  • Fair Sentencing Act
  • Second Chance Act