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Arizona faith leaders oppose prison expansion

Black cross in grass at sunsetAs people of faith, we are united in opposition to any further prison expansion in Arizona. In particular, we are opposed to the practice of incarceration for profit, through contracts with private prison corporations.

We join with those denominations and faith communities that have issued official statements against prison privatization, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Bishops of the South, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church USA, Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ.

We were deeply disappointed that the budget agreement reached last week requires the Department of Corrections to contract out for up to 2,000 more medium security prison beds, with the first 1,000 to open on July 1, 2016.

Across Arizona, people have spoken out against new prison beds, citing the exorbitant cost, the failure to increase public safety, and the lack of accountability of the for-profit prison corporations to the taxpayers footing the bill.

Below are a few of the myriad reasons we, as people of faith, oppose the expansion of Arizona’s prison system:

1. The primary issue is a moral one. The state budget is a moral document, demonstrating our values through the prioritization of certain issues and populations over others. The current budget reveals that our state leaders are more willing to deprive people of their fundamental liberty than to help them reach their greatest potential.

2. Overuse of incarceration is contrary to core principles of forgiveness, loving our neighbors, and welcoming the stranger. It encourages us to turn our backs on people who make mistakes or are struggling with mental illness or addiction, labeling them as “less-than” and unworthy of our help.

3. Overuse of incarceration is an assault on the sanctity of the family. It destroys communities and undermines the family, the fundamental structure of our society. Approximately 200,000 children in Arizona have an incarcerated parent. This leads to more children in the foster care system and increased dependency on public services.

4. Prison privatization is a failed experiment. It does not save money and does not increase public safety. There is no factual, criminological or penological justification for this practice. It creates a disincentive to rehabilitate and reform prisoners in favor of long prison stays and high recidivism – the opposite of what a “corrections” system is supposed to do.

5. Our scarce state resources are better invested in those areas we know make our society safer: education, substance abuse treatment, mental health and medical care and social services that keep people out of the criminal justice system. These also reflect core values of faith communities.

We urge our state leaders to look deeply into their hearts and meditate on what is truly in the best interest of all Arizonans. Holding public office is both a huge responsibility and a deeply moral commitment. Choose rightly.

Blessings,

– Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, Southwest Conference Minister, United Church of Christ; Pastor Lara Forbes, Faith Lutheran Church, Phoenix; Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Lead Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix; Rev. Elice Higginbotham, Interim Senior Minister, Desert Palm United Church of Christ, Tempe; Rev. Linda Lawrence, Assistant Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix; Rabbi John A. Linder, Senior Rabbi, Temple Solel, Paradise Valley; Rev. Lisa McDaniel-Hutchings Co-Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Justice Arizona Network (UUJAZ); Brad Munroe, Presbytery Pastor, Presbytery de Cristo and Grand Canyon Presbytery, Presbyterian Church USA; Pastor Jeff Procter-Murphy, Daysprings United Methodist Church, Tempe; Rev. John R. Smith, Rector, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Tucson; Rev. Erin Tamayo, Director, Arizona Faith Network; Rev. Jim Wiltbank, Pastor, St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church; Rabbi Dr. Shumly Yanklowitz, Uri L’Tzedek: Jewish Social Justice, Phoenix; Nancy Marshall and Margaret Brittingham, co-clerks, Phoenix Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

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