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Sunday's Q&A

First, let me get some business out of the way:

NEXT MEETING: September 23, 11:30 am

Lichtenberger Room.

For those who had to miss it, at our meeting this past Sunday we were very fortunate to be able to have a Q&A session with two St. Paul's parishioners — Jeannie and Kate (I'm leaving their last names out just in case they'd rather not turn up in Google searches!) — who have complementary experience with the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. The discussion was absolutely fascinating, and I think we all learned a lot. Kate's experience has been gained through volunteering and has involved the state prison system, whereas Jeannie's experience has come through her work as a professional social worker and has been primarily in county jails. Much of the conversation focused on the difficulties that incarcerated people face during the transition to life on the outside, but we also learned a lot that we didn't know (or at least I didn't know!) about what goes on inside a prison or jail. If I had to distill what we heard into two take-home messages, I might say it was these:

(1) The transition from incarceration to being in the outside world is difficult in a number of ways and for a number of reasons, and there's very little help available to people in that situation.

(2) Kate's strong recommendation was that in whatever way the group gets involved in prison ministry, we do so under the auspices of an already-existing group, with established roles, procedures, and boundaries.

Sunday was not the first time that these ideas have come up, and it was unlikely to be the last. As everything we learn eventually coalesces into a plan of action, they will probably be recurring themes. We'll spend some time at our next meeting discussing what we learned from Jeannie and Kate last Sunday. Big, BIG thanks to them for letting us learn from their experiences!

As usual, I have a few semi-random things I want to bring to people's attention:

— The nationwide prison strike ended this past Sunday, the day of our last meeting. Not surprisingly, it's hard to get an idea of exactly how widespread or effective it was.

— And on that subject, the new season of Ear Hustle began this week, and the latest episode began by briefly talking about the prison strike and asking some inmates around San Quentin what they thought about it — or whether they even knew it was going on at all. If subscribing to podcasts on iTunes isn't your thing, you can listen to the latest episode here, on the Ear Hustle website. I know I've said it before, but I really can't recommend Ear Hustle strongly enough, and this latest episode was typically excellent. Be sure to listen all the way to the end, when they play a beautiful song about lockdown (the main topic of the episode) that was written and performed by San Quentin inmates.

— One subject that came up briefly during Sunday's discussion was bail reform, an issue that is being talked about a lot these days. Rachael Rollins, who just won the Democratic primary for Suffolk County District Attorney, has this to say on the subject on her campaign website:

The purpose of Bail is to ensure the return of an individual for future court appearances. In our current system, however, often times an arbitrary bail amount is set and many people end up in jail because they are poor and cannot afford their bail. We must remove the disadvantages of poverty and lower incomes. The Rollins Administration will move towards eliminating cash bail for individuals who do not pose a flight risk. If an individual is thought to be dangerous, they will face a dangerousness hearing to determine the risk and solution.

I think that most if not all reform-minded people would agree that the cash bail system is unjust; however, there can also be issues with the concept of using risk assessment to determine who should stay in jail while their trial is pending, as discussed in this article that addresses the system that's replacing the bail system in California:

The law also calls for an assessment algorithm to create an individual “risk score” that supposedly reveals the likelihood of re-arrest or failure to appear in court if released. Software would in effect compare the individual with people with similar profiles, which means using data from a criminal justice system that has documented discrimination at every step – including racial biases in police stops, searches and arrests.

According to that article, there is little agreement about what should replace the cash bail system — but there is increasing recognition that reform in this area is necessary if we're serious about eliminating mass incarceration in this country.

— As you may have heard, South Carolina is declining to evacuate inmates from the MacDougall Correctional Institution, despite there being a mandatory evacuation order for the area, which is in the path of Hurricane Florence. You can read more about this here. South Carolina has apparently not evacuated inmates for a hurricane since 1999.

I hope you'll join me in praying for the safety of all the incarcerated people and any others who, for whatever reason, will not have the ability to escape the path of Hurricane Florence.

— Pax Christi (the Catholic peace movement) will be hosting a presentation on restorative justice by Erin Freeborn, the Executive Director of Communities for Restorative Justice. The presentation will take place in Burlington on Saturday, October 20; for more information, see this page on the Pax Christi website.

Hope to see you all at our next meeting!


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