Presbyterians Challenge Nationwide Prison Privatization

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PHEWA’s criminal justice network urges 48 governors to reject proposal

March 7, 2012
Presbyterian News Service
Bethany Furkin

LOUISVILLE

Some Presbyterians have urged 48 state governors to reject a proposal from a large for-profit prison firm, calling privatized prisons “morally wrong from a faith perspective.”

The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network — the newest network of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) — was advocating against a “corrections investment initiative” from the Corrections Corporation of America, a proposal that would require states to enter into minimum 20-year contracts with the corporation and guarantee a 90 percent prison occupancy rate.

“We believe that privatizing prisons, and thereby incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, is immoral and contrary to the faith teachings of the Presbyterian Church,” said the Rev. Trina Zelle, executive director of PHEWA, in a statement.

Private prisons don’t have incentives to support criminal justice reform or rehabilitate prisoners, PHEWA stated in a press release, citing a 2003 resolution approved by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to abolish the private prison industry: “In a humane society, in a democratic society, there are some things that can never be for sale, even and especially when they involve ‘one of the least of these followers of mine.’”

The letter was the first action of the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, which was formed out of an overture from the 219th General Assembly (2010). The network held an organizing meeting in February at Stony Point conference center, where participants discussed an array of criminal justice issues, including the death penalty, private prisons and prison labor.

Although she doesn’t expect to hear much back from the governors in response to the letter, Zelle said the advocacy work was an important step for the network, which coordinated with the United Methodist Church and the American Civil Liberties Union on the issue.

“What’s really important is to mobilize people to be a local voice,” she said. “It’s got to be a constant drumbeat that this is not OK.”

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