Approaches to improving criminal justice

Two recent articles from California focus on criminal justice, and how it can be made better.

CNS photo by Tim Hunt

In San Diego, The Southern Cross, the diocesan newspaper, zeroed in on restorative justice. According to Deacon Jim Walsh, director of the diocese’s Office for Social Ministry and director of its Restorative Justice Program, explained that restorative justice “first expresses real concern for victims, families and their needs,” but also “tries to address the needs of offenders and their families” in order to “get at the root causes of crime.”

Restorative justice “emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility,” Deacon Walsh added. “Restorative justice aims to put things right. … It asks the questions: Who has been harmed? What active steps can be taken to repair harm to the victim and the community? Can victims achieve some healing when an offender works toward making things right?”

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, a former warden at San Quentin State Prison, who has presided over four executions, is working now to abolish capital punishment, offering life in prison without the possibility of parole as an alternative. “Just imagine asking public servants to wake up every day and heave them go to work planning to kill somebody,” Jeanne Woodford, a Catholic now heading Death Penalty Focus, told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Woodford said the organization wants to make the case that the cost of capital punishment, the potential for executing an innocent person, the lack of assistance to victims, and the belief that the death penalty does not deter crime are among the “practical reasons” to end the death penalty. Moral concerns also come into play, although Death Penalty Focus doesn’t dwell on those.

The U.S. Catholic bishops noted in a 2000 statement on criminal justice that “the status quo is not really working.” The year before, they said the death penalty promotes “a sense of vengeance in our culture.”

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