Criminal Justice

Reinhold Hanning flanked by lawyers. Image via REUTERS/Bernd Thissen/Pool/RNS

A 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz was convicted in a German court of complicity in the murder of 170,000 people at the Nazi death camp and sentenced to five years in jail, according to media reports.

The verdict in the case against Reinhold Hanning was announced June 17 by the judge presiding over what is likely Germany’s last Holocaust trials, Reuters reported. Hanning, who could have faced a 15-year sentence, will remain free pending any appeals.

the Web Editors 06-15-2016

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The judge who sentenced Brock Turner to a mere six months in prison for three counts of sexual assault has been removed from a new case involving sexual assault, reports NBC News.

Prosecutors in California used a procedure that often comes into use when a judge’s impartiality is under question. But, according to the district attorney, the move came amid concerns over a recent stolen mail case.

the Web Editors 06-10-2016

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Union Theological Seminary in New York City will no longer ask applicants to check a box indicating whether they have a criminal history, reports TheBlaze.

Union also signed onto the White House’s “Fair Chance Pledge,” which encourages businesses and schools to eliminate unnecessary barriers to people with criminal records. Many of the other institutions who have signed on have similarly “banned the box” on their applications.

the Web Editors 02-11-2016

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Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Mo. after the St. Louis suburb rejected an agreement with the Justice Department that would have reformed their criminal justice system. “Their decision leaves us no further choice,” Lynch said.

the Web Editors 01-21-2016

Daniel Holtzclaw after 18 guilty verdicts were read. Screenshot via @BillSchammert/Twitter

The former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw has been sentenced to 263 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting eight women and girls. Holtzclaw, who is white and Japanese, intentionally sought out black women in poor areas as his victims.

Lisa Sharon Harper 10-28-2015
nobeastsofierce / Shutterstock

nobeastsofierce / Shutterstock

POPE FRANCIS called our country to honor the sacredness of all human life. He called on Congress to embrace a consistent ethic of life—to abolish the death penalty. The state killed no one while Francis walked among us. But three days after his departure, blood flowed.

Six people in five states were scheduled to be executed in the U.S. within one week of each other in the beginning of October:

Wednesday, Sept. 30. Kelly Gissendaner, convicted for the orchestration of the 1997 murder of her husband, converted to Christianity while on death row in Georgia. Gissendaner, a respected student of theology, was put to death after three failed Supreme Court appeals.

Wednesday, Sept. 30. Richard Glossip, who is widely believed to be innocent of the 1997 murder-for-hire for which he was convicted, was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma, but Gov. Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution. Fallin offered the stay not because she believed that Glossip was innocent, but rather because of questions over whether the state possessed the legal drug protocol to put him to death.

Thursday, Oct. 1. Alfredo Prieto was executed in Virginia for the rape and murder of a woman and her boyfriend in 1988. Prieto was believed to be a serial murderer with an IQ below 70, according to Amnesty International. Prieto had an appeal pending when the state killed him.

Friday, Oct. 2. Kimber Edwards was convicted of the murder-for-hire of his ex-wife in 2000, but another man recently confessed to having acted alone. Edwards, who has autism, originally confessed to the crime, but at his trial and ever since he has said he was innocent. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

Caroline Barnett 10-27-2015

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On Oct. 27, 1994 — 21 years ago today — the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the United States’ prison population had reached over 1 million people. By comparison, that’s the same size as San Jose, Calif.— the tenth biggest city in the US.

Today, the United States’ prison population is over 1.5 million — the size of Philadelphia, Pa., our nation’s fifth largest city.

Yet the size of our prison population — the largest in the world — is only part of the problem. Communities of color and poorer communities are disproportionally sentenced to prison — the result of systemic injustices including income inequality, school-to-prison pipelines, and racial profiling.

We mark many positive anniversaries here at Sojourners, but the work of justice also necessitates recognizing ongoing abuses of human dignity over time. So today, on the grim anniversary of 1 million people housed in our prison system, we choose to remember them and all those still behind bars. Here are ten articles we’re re-reading today about mass incarceration — and how to end it.

Jonathan Orbell 09-21-2015

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is at it again — this time in The Atlantic’s newly released October 2015 issue.

In “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Coates wrestles with the dark underside of criminal justice in the United States. As he is apt to do, Coates effortlessly teases out the connections between our nation’s present situation — unimaginably high rates of incarceration, particularly among black Americans — and our historical plundering of the black community.  Conceptually nuanced, historically rigorous, and artfully crafted, “Family” is a success on every level. 

Yet soon after Coates’ piece was published, Thabiti Anyabwile issued a cogent response decrying Coates’ apparent hopelessness. Anyabwile’s response highlighted fundamental differences in the two writers’ worldviews. Physical bodies and the violence they endure, not theologies, are afforded primacy of place in Coates’ analyses.

In this sense, Anyabwile serves as an interesting counterweight to Coates. A pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and council member with The Gospel Coalition, Anyabwile is unabashedly Christian. The “comforting narrative of divine law,” eschewed so often by Coates, is one in which Christians like Anyabwile and myself regularly take solace.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Fifty inmates from a Rome jail were given a private tour of the Vatican Museums on Sept. 13, setting the tone for Pope Francis’ visit to a U.S. prison later this month and emphasizing his concern for people on the margins.

The group from the Rebibbia prison visited the Vatican Gardens and St. Peter’s Basilica, before being given a private tour through the Vatican Museums by Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Once the inmates reached the Sistine Chapel, best known for its world-famous Michelangelo’s fresco, the Vatican allowed the prisoners to listen in to the pope’s midday Angelus prayer.

Ron Stief 07-16-2015
Image via  UzFoto/Shutterstock

Image via  /Shutterstock

The critique President Obama articulated of solitary confinement in this week’s speech to the NAACP on criminal justice is truly remarkable. Never before has this president, or any president, spoken about the mistreatment of people in U.S. prisons with such clarity and compassion.

When he spoke, the president echoed what people of faith across the country have advocated for years: Solitary confinement is an affront to our deeply held moral convictions.

Directing the attorney general to review solitary confinement is exactly what is needed to begin the process of ending this immoral practice. Faith leaders hope that with Obama’s scheduled visit to the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno in Oklahoma on July 16, he will ask to see the solitary confinement section. If the president misses a chance to see such a unit, he, and thus the nation, will develop an inaccurate picture of the true suffering and neglect that lie deep inside our U.S. prison system.

When the president named solitary confinement as one of those prison conditions "that have no place in any civilized country," he made a statement of values loud and clear — that the inherent human dignity of people does not end at the prison gates.

The Editors 06-08-2015
Image via tovovan/

Image via tovovan/

It’s hard to overlook the peppy pink pig who appeared on the cover of our June issue, but maybe you missed the lyrical beauty of Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter’s review of Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, or Eboo Patel’s surprising lesson on what Thomas Jefferson’s 1764 copy of Islam’s holy book can tell us about the 2016 elections. The June issue taught us how to stop funding what we hate, how a housing-first model saved the life of a homeless transgender woman, and how prison guards are earning degrees alongside inmates.

Below, read our top 10 quotes from the June 2015 issue of Sojourners.

This is not a post-racial America, especially in regard to our policing and criminal justice systems. Ferguson has become a teaching parable for the nation.
Catherine Woodiwiss 03-02-2015
A woman in prison. Image courtesy littlesam/

A woman in prison. Image courtesy littlesam/

It is a great and terrible irony that our country’s correctional system does not often allow for or take much pride in perpetrators’ self-correction.

Yet to the degree that transformation within the system is possible, such appears to have happened for Kelly Gissendaner. The 46-year-old woman was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of her then-husband, Doug. It is well-documented that her accomplice and then-boyfriend committed the act — he is sentenced to life, with a chance at parol.

Gissendaner faces excecution tonight at 7 p.m. EST.

If carried through, it will be the first time since 1976 that the state of Georgia will execute an individual who was not the person physically using violence in the crime.

Gissendaner’s case — that of a person guilty of murder whose profound internal transformation while in prison has led to a contemplative life of studying theology, mentoring at-risk youth, offering pastoral care to fellow inmates, and expressing full and sincere remorse for her actions — calls into stark question whether our criminal justice system, and specifically the state's use of the death penalty, honestly allows for the possibility for redemption.

No matter how it's framed, our current crisis is not just about police. It's about deeply ingrained American institutional privilege and racist inequities; inequities clearly apparent in disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates, family income, access to education and health care, and employment and housing opportunities.
the Web Editors 11-26-2014

Editor’s Note: On Monday night, it was announced that a grand jury in St. Louis County found no probable cause to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on any of five possible counts. Throughout the country, protests have erupted. For this week’s edition of the Weekly Wrap, we wanted to offer you the 10 most important things you should see, read, digest to understand the situation. We pray for peace.

1. Letter From Birmingham Jail
by Martin Luther King Jr. Far more relevant than it should be. Print it out. Write on it. Pray through it. "In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."

2. PHOTOS: Scenes From Ferguson — and Beyond
Slate compiled these chilling shots from protests in Ferguson, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and more.

3. A Sad Night for America
“It is time to right the unacceptable wrong of black lives being worth less than white lives in our criminal justice system." our criminal justice system."


David P. Gushee 03-05-2014

How the U.S. became a torturing nation—and how to make it stop.

Molly M. Gill 07-01-2013

Mandatory minimum sentences are both irrational and unjust.

Dawn Cherie Araujo 06-05-2013

Susan Burton, photo by Kathleen Toner

Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project

RNS photo courtesy Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Finn is charged with failing to report suspected child abuse. RNS photo courtesy Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Finn, leader of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and an outspoken conservative in the American hierarchy, was convicted of a single misdemeanor count for not telling police that one of his priests, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, had taken hundreds of lewd images of children in Catholic schools and parishes.

But even as he became the first U.S. bishop ever convicted in criminal court for shielding an abusive priest, Finn’s standing inside the church appears uncertain, and the subject of intense debate.

Should he stay or should he go? Finn has indicated that he wants to tough it out.

the Web Editors 07-12-2012

Last month, the U.S. Senate held its first hearing ever on the issue of solitary confinement in prisons. To draw attention to the issue, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture urged Americans to fast for 23 hours for one day, symbolizing the 23 hours a day prisoners spend in solitary confinement each day.

"Christian scriptures and the scriptures of all religions say much about the way we are to treat other human beings, especially the most vulnerable," said the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of NRCAT. "And all religious traditions teach that it is important to honor and respect the dignity and worth that God has endowed in each human being. When we put people into solitary confinement cells, which we know are going to cause harm, then we have deeply violated that requirement from God to honor and respect each human being."