The story of Scripture and the witness of the Church throughout history exhorts us to remember our calling to love and serve the prisoner. As Christ reminds us:
While various different institutions including churches and non-profits can speak, raise awareness and support youth who are locked up, only state governments can close these youth prisons and provide restorative alternatives.
As both Christians and citizens we have an opportunity and responsibility in our country to hold government to its right responsibility of public justice. We must speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves and remind government of its high calling to uphold the dignity of all citizens.
So as Christian citizens committed to justice we can:
- Learn about the specific situation in your state. Does your state have youth prisons? Is the state planning on building more?
- Connect with organizations that serve youth prisoners including churches and chaplains.
- Connect with organizations in your state working on juvenile justice reform. This may be a national organization working in the state or a state-based organization.
- Consider writing, calling or visiting your state lawmakers and other key decision makers to talk about youth prisons in your state. What is their view and why?
- Connect with other stakeholders who shape juvenile justice policy like prosecutors, juvenile indigent defenders and law enforcement.
Many children and youth involved in the juvenile justice system may not have a community that can support them. Churches are in a unique position to provide healing communities and can do so in many different ways:
- Churches need to be committed to praying for youth who are incarcerated and their families, along with government officials and those involved in the juvenile justice system.
- Churches should consider how they can come alongside youth on a long term basis, whether through prison visits or through alternative programs.
NON-PROFITS AND BUSINESSES
Non-profits and business will have varying degrees of opportunity to uphold justice, but asking how a wide variety of non-profits and businesses can possibly be involved is an important first step. In addition:
- There is a vital role for non-profits working on advocacy and public policy, particularly those which focus on juvenile justice issues. Beyond advocacy organizations, there is a great need for non-profit and community organizations to develop community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.
- Businesses can also consider whether there are ways they can provide employment to formerly incarcerated youth and ways to partner with non-profits providing community based alternatives to incarceration.