By the Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
Consideration of prison construction, imprisonment practices, and imprisonment of immigrants should begin with principles drawn from Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The most comprehensive authoritative U.S. treatment of these themes was the 2000 statement by the U.S. bishops titled Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Punishment.1 The most applicable principles drawn from CST are human dignity and the common good. The common good is undermined by both “criminal behavior that threatens the lives and dignity of others and by policies that seem to give up on those who have broken the law.”
Human dignity focuses the morally concerned person on the victim of crime and the offender, but also on those involved in various roles within the criminal justice process. The bishops call for strong support to make the justice system more responsive to the concerns of victims who too often are neglected in the process or their anger and pain is exploited to support punitive policies. Attention must be paid to their needs of healing and compassion, inclusion in the proceedings against their offenders, and the help of the faith community in
recovering their dignity as they search for genuine justice. The bishops urge the widespread adoption of “innovative programs of restorative justice that provide the opportunity for mediation between victims and offenders and offer restitution for crimes committed.”