The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 23 million behind bars.
Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, speaking from the Q Conference on Wedensday, said this high rate is inextricably tied to poverty, age, mental illness and race.
“In this country, the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice,” said Stevenson, a law professor at the New York University school of Law. “If we’re going to be concerned about ending poverty, we must be concerned about justice.”
As Christians, he said, we are called to change the conversation from one of fear to one of truth and reconciliation.
“I believe there is no community in this country capable of leading this conversation except for the church,” Stevenson said.
Following his talk on "Restoring the Justice System," Stevenson was joined by Catherine Rohr, who is putting his call into action.
Rohr’s Defy Ventures in New York City offers business and entrepreneurship training to formerly incarcerated individuals. The ministry recruits venture capitalists and business executives to mentor them and help them create business plans.
The organization recently completed its first pilot program, with half of the graduates already launching their own companies. The hope, she said, is to create a model to then pass on to other urban community in the nation.
Stevenson said there are plenty of things Christians can do to help usher reconciliation and rehabilitation, and it starts with getting over fear and anger.
“Step closer to these broken communities,” he said. “… Even though you might think it’s dangerous, I’m going to call you to embrace it.”
Stevenson had the realization in his own life that when he stepped closer to his clients and saw their humanity, he realized he too was broken. And he wants other Christians to do the same.
“We understand the life of Paul. But we should understand the life of Saul. My clients are just in that stage of life,” Stevenson said.
Sandi Villarreal is the Associate Web Editor forSojourners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sandi.