Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and one of the chief organizers of “The Reconciled Church: Healing the Racial Divide” summit in Dallas, has written an open letter to President Barack Obama, calling for him to address criminal justice reform in his State of the Union on January 20, 2015. See his full letter below.
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20050
Dear President Obama:
May the Grace and Peace of Christ be yours!
I am writing this letter to you as a formal request for you to address the need for a major reform of the criminal justice system in your state of the union address this week. Mr. President we need to go beyond improving community policing, although training of law enforcement officers is very important. Part of the mistrust of law enforcement in urban areas has to do with the large number of ex-convicts who live in our cities. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the growing number of Black and Brown Americans who are becoming part of a permanent underclass because of jail time. Michelle Alexander (Ohio State University law professor) wrote about this in her book “The New Jim Crow”.
Ex-convicts have problems with re-entry into society. Further, their families suffer because of the low income potential and numerous other consequences of having a criminal conviction on their records. Unfortunately, many non-violent offenders are suffering irreparable damage because of youthful mistakes. The Department of Justice’s web site says, “over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year, and studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years of release.”
In addition to the sheer size of the prison population, these numbers are a problem because 71 percent of these inmates are black and brown persons. Later on in this letter, I will address several specific recommendations that the Board of Prisons should accept in order to mitigate some of the damage being done to minority fathers, families, and communities by their policies.
This past Thursday, January 15, 2015, I helped convene a meeting of over 100 ministers who met at The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas (pastored by Bishop T.D. Jakes) for a powerful closed door conclave called – “The Reconciled Church: Healing The Racial Divide”. Collectively, we represented over 40 million evangelical Christians of different racial backgrounds.
The group included former Ambassador and civil rights activists Andrew Young; Elder Bernice King, daughter of the iconic civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bishop Vashti Mackenzie, presiding prelate of the 10th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop Paul Morton, founding and presiding bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Dr. Jim Garlow of Skyline Wesleyan Church, Dr. Tony Evans of the Urban Alternative, James Robison of Life Outreach International, Dr. Sammy Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference , Dr. Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and representatives of Colorado based Focus on the Family. Later that evening over 6,000 people gathered for a Communion and Commissioning service designed to begin addressing the need for racial reconciliation within the church.
Mr. President, I would like to take a moment to explain our reason for meeting. First of all, we believe that “Healing the Racial Divide” in our nation is achievable in our lifetime (within the next 15 to 20 years) by using what we call the “seven bridges to peace” that you will find laid out on our website: www.HealTheRacialDivide.com. Secondly, we vowed to help lead the nation toward racial equality by using proven approaches that churches are already modeling.
The remainder of the letter contains an initial analysis that partners of the High Impact Leadership Coalition have put together. The recommendations detailed here are in line with the groups’ desire but are the product of a broader work group. These comments will give you a sense of some of the steps of action that can be taken by the Department of Justice and your administration immediately in criminal justice reform.
I recommend that you endorse and support the passing of the REDEEM Act that Senators Corey Booker (D) and Rand Paul (R) have advanced so valiantly. The act attempts to address the fact that our criminal justice system is broken. It has been developed to correspond to sentencing reform efforts also being worked on in Washington. The legislation’s real name is the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act. Corey Booker’s web site says this about the second chance act: “Once convicted of a crime, Americans face daunting obstacles to successfully rejoining society. Since 1990, state and federal prisons have released an average of 590,400 inmates each year, and an estimated three quarters of these ex-offenders are rearrested within five years of their release. A recent report from the Vera Institute revealed that if just ten states studied cut their recidivism rates by ten percent, it would save taxpayers $470 million a year.”
The six Features of the REDEEM ACT are as follows:
- Creates a federal sealing pathway for nonviolent adult ex-offenders.
- Automatically seals and, in some cases, expunges juvenile records.
- Incentivizes states to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years old.
- Significantly restricts room confinement of juveniles.
- Lifts the lifetime SNAP and TANF bans on many non-violent drug offenders.
- Improves the accuracy of the FBI background check system.
Further, I recommend that the Second Chance Act be given greater emphasis and several Board of Prisons policies be changed immediately (Please see the attachment).
In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to have you meet with the steering committee of THE HEALING THE RACIAL DIVIDE SUMMIT, and we would also like to explore even more reforms of the criminal justice system with the next Attorney General. We believe that the church can serve the nation and deal with the modern complexities of class, poverty, and race in this nation.
Let’s coordinate our efforts and change America.
Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
Senior Pastor of Hope Christian Church and
Chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition