Criminal Justice

Justice and Morality: A Faith-Based Approach to Reform

November 5, 2015

This session explored how the faith community has made a difference in criminal justice and policing reform, but also pointed out how it could do better to affect change.

Allison DeFoor, canon to the ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, was unequivocal in his disapproval of the current criminal justice system: “This system is wrong. Morally wrong.” And while he praised the efforts of volunteers, religious groups, and non-profit organizations, he expressed his belief that the faith community’s advocacy for criminal justice and policing reform is far from adequate.

CEO of Prison Entrepreneurship Program Bert Smith agreed that the faith community could go beyond its volunteerism to advocate for reform, but he praised faith leaders and volunteers for directly engaging with people in prison: “I really believe that there is immense transformative power in the love that a volunteer brings to the prisoner when he or she personally engages.”

For Craig DeRoche, executive director of Justice Fellowship, the faith community is better positioned to maintain human dignity in the justice system by focusing on the principles, values, and morals that guide criminal justice reform. In response to moderator Brianna Walden’s question regarding how the faith community can balance forgiveness for the incarcerated with restitution and protection for victims, DeRoch discussed Justice Fellowship’s restorative justice approach, which works to find harmony between the person who has done harm, the person who has been harmed, and the greater community.

Tim Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, talked about the importance of ensuring that the criminal justice system offers the chance for behavioral reform. This, he emphasized, is necessary because the majority of people in prison will re-enter society. As he argued, “Everybody won’t change, but the goal is for everybody to have the opportunity to change once they enter into the correctional system.”

Overall, the panelists agreed that reform would require not only changes to public policy but a change in culture. The Charles Koch Foundation is collecting proposals to address this issue and other facets of criminal justice reform. Learn more and submit idea on the Foundation’s Request for Proposals page.