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This Sunday: People of Faith to Call for Justice in Illinois

Oct. 3, 2008 – One thousand clergy and laity from a range of faith traditions are expected at the Faith Summit for Criminal Justice Reform this Sunday, October 5 at 3 p.m. at the UIC Forum at Roosevelt and Halsted.

They will endorse a Statement of Faith on the Transformation of the Illinois Criminal Justice System that calls for the state to move away from a system focused largely on "punishment, penalty and revenge" to focus on "restoration, healing and transformation of victims of crime, offenders and [their] communities."

Organized by the Civic Action Network, a regional group of congregations sponsored by the Community Renewal Society, the effort is "based on the values of many major religious traditions," said Todd Dietterle, director of the program. 

The jail and prison population in the U.S. has quintupled since 1972 — the U.S. now has the world's highest incarceration rate — but half of those released from prison are re-arrested within three years, according to the statement, which adds: "Current practices have not made our communities safer."

There has been recent progress in Illinois, Dietterle said, including limited measures for sealing and expunging records, drug treatment programs in two Illinois prisons and drug schools in Cook County as an alternative to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenders. "But we have a long way to go," he said.

Sunday's participants will gather in eight workshops on specific reforms, including increased support for violence prevention programs, increased assistance for children of the incarcerated and their caregivers, resources to replicate Cook County's drug schools throughout the state and greater focus on ex-offenders' reentry into society.

One group will discuss a proposal to consider parole for inmates with life sentences who are at least 50 years old and have served at least 25 years of their sentence. Another will discuss the "indefinite sentences of solitary confinement" at Tamms Supermax Prison, where "some inmates have been stuck there for ten years, in 24/7 isolation, with no human contact, no phone calls," Dietterle said.

Many legislators privately acknowledge "the system is terribly flawed," Dietterle said, but "we have to create political will" in the face of a political dynamic that still seems to favor the rhetoric of harsh treatment of criminals, regardless of cost and effectiveness.

"If the faith community doesn't step up and push reform, it's not going to happen," he said.

Click here to learn more about the summit, register to attend and read the Statement of People of Faith in full. There will also be a resource fair before the summit, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

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