“As God’s co-workers we urge you…”
2 Corinthians 6:1
The time is late.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this sentiment at one of the most pivotal moments in history. I believe that Dietrich was trying to convey a sense of urgency and optimism to people who desperately needed it. In many ways, he was communicating that the time for passive-aggressive strategizing or holding to positions of seeming indifference had passed. It was a call for action.
And at the same time, by speaking in the present tense, Dietrich left just enough room for listeners to be hopeful. For there was hope that things could change; there was hope that things would change.
As I look out at the current landscape, it is apparent to me that the time is late. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the exponential increases in prison populations. We can no longer ignore the fact that the lives of many of our neighbors, friends and family members are being forever changed by the impact of incarceration. We can no longer overlook the fact that we are continuing to fund a broken system that is not designed to help or habilitate broken people.
In the face of this reality, I fully understand that our actions must be coupled with the sense of urgency.
Paul argued it this way, “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard YOU, and in the day of salvation I, the Lord, helped YOU.’” (2 Cor. 6:1-2). Paul goes on to recount his hardships to ensure that the Gospel message would be spread (v.3-13). His sense of urgency is an appropriate reminder for us today.
We all can see that morality is fading. There is a growing body of our population moving further away from what is “good.” The present conditions can appear seemingly bleak. However, just as Dietrich remained optimistic, I am also optimistic because I know there still is a great hope. A hope in Jesus the Christ!
The preponderance of evidence that faith in Christ can make a difference is overwhelming. So our call to action is simple: spread the Gospel message to the men and women who desperately need it. As we do so, with a sense of urgency, we will see more lives changed and people living with hope and purpose. We will see more Crystals, and Harolds; Dennises and Brigettes; Jonathans and Mindys. We will see more men and women living life…and living it more abundantly.
PRISON NEWS: The FIRST STEP Act, H.R. 5682
Some believe that criminal justice reform starts with prison reform. This is evidenced by the overwhelming bi-partisan support for the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (aka FIRST STEP Act), which was passed into law December 21, 2018. It has been stated that the newly enacted law represents one of the most significant overhauls of the federal criminal justice system in a generation. Here are some quick highlights of the new legislation.
- The FIRST STEP Act:
- Reforms the federal prison system and seeks to reduce recidivism
- Shortens mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses
- Eases a federal “three strikes” rule – which currently imposes a life sentence for three or more convictions – and issues a 25-year sentence instead
- Expands the “drug safety-valve,” which would give judges more discretion to deviate from mandatory minimums when sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses
- Makes the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. The Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed in 2010, has helped reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses-a disparity that has disproportionally affected racial minorities
- Includes provisions that will improve conditions for current prisoners
Two potential shortcomings of the FIRST STEP Act are that (1) it will leave significant mandatory minimum sentences in place and (2) two of the bill’s key sentencing provisions are not retroactive, which minimizes the overall impact. There is also much concern over how the new “risk assessment” procedures and “eligibility to earn credit” processes will be introduced.
You can read more about the FIRST STEP Act at Congress.gov or by following the link below:
In Pennsylvania, the nation’s first “Clean Slate” bill – a law to seal records of offenders convicted of low-level, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses and who do not incur further criminal charges over ten years – was enacted in 2018. Pennsylvania also eliminated automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses for low-level offenses.
In His Service,
Jonathan H. Lewis, Executive Director
Ruth Haines, Administrative Assistant