Criminal Justice Forum – Welcome and Opening Statement
August 11, 2015
Bishop John Schol
Good evening and welcome to the criminal justice forum. Thank you for coming to what we hope will be conversations that lead to action and change.
I, John Schol, United Methodist Bishop for the New Jersey Area and my colleague Matthew D. Gewirtz, Senior Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, in Short Hills, NJ welcome you on behalf of Senator Cory Booker and the Interfaith Partners who sponsor the forum. Interfaith Partners is a group of religious leaders from various faiths who model and work together to address concerns of mercy and justice within our communities and State.
We are also grateful for NJTV’s participation and thank them for broadcasting the forum across the state in the coming weeks.
We gather today to begin a conversation for some and deepen the conversation for others because we have witnessed changes in the criminal justice system over the last 35 years.
We are grateful to the many men and women who serve the nation, and in particular New Jersey through public service. We are especially thankful for the way so many of our public officials administer their role faithfully and justly.
We also recognize that there has been a vast increase in incarceration over the last 35 years, and the increase has been un-proportional, incarcerating higher numbers of people of color.
- The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration because of a 500% increase of those incarcerated over the last 35 years.
- Policies from the War on Drugs era has resulted in a dramatic growth in drug incarcerations – skyrocketing from 41,000 to almost a half million. Laws have become harsher incarcerating people for a longer period of time and most are not high-level actors in the drug trade.
- More than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color. African American men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than Caucasian men. For African American men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.
- As religious leaders we are also deeply concerned for the communities and families where increased and longer incarcerations put more children in foster care and create more community disruption.
We gather today to begin and deepen the conversation because the mass incarceration of people of color, particularly African Americans is not just.
Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crowe, through facts and testimony paints a picture of a criminal justice system rooted in prejudice, racism and systematic injustice. It does not arrest and prosecute evenly. Ms. Alexander characterizes the criminal justice system as the new Jim Crowe.
The criminal justice system more often emphasizes punishment over rehabilitation and applies the law unevenly while our faith traditions and moral sensibilities call for restorative justice and applying laws equally and fairly.
Today is the first of what we hope will be several conversations that will lead to action and change. You will hear from leaders, secular and religious who are committed to understanding and changing our systems to reflect a new and better way. You will also hear testimony from community people who have experienced firsthand the challenges we have described.
Welcome, thank you for coming, and let the conversation and action begin with us.