by Deacon Jim McLaughlin and Father John Sureau
Coordinated by the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee, this is the final article in a series about the five issues that focused our public policy efforts at the Catholics at the Capitol day on March 19. Each article summarizes how the issue impacts, specifically, life and ministry in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. To read the issue brief about Humane Treatment for Incarcerated Individual from the New York State Catholic Conference, click here.
“’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”
We are often bombarded with images from news reports about the actions of prisoners. We see reports of this crime or another committed by an individual or group. We risk, though, losing sight of the person and only seeing the act itself. This risk can easily serve as an excuse for not paying attention or praying or being present to the imprisoned.
While we do not have a state prison on Long Island, the issues and concerns raised by the New York State Catholic Conference apply to all prisons and to the lives of prisoners and those who minister to them. On a practical level, many prisoners incarcerated in county jails are transferred to state prisons. On a deeper and more profound level, regardless of the crime committed or the guilt of the individual, he or she is a child of God, the face of Christ, deserving of our mercy and compassion, of our “visit” (Matthew 25:36)
This requires us to not only minister to the individuals, but to examine the system. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states, “In this regard, the activity that prison chaplains are called to undertake is important, not only in the specifically religious dimension of this activity but also in the defense of the dignity of those who are detained” (403). We are blessed by the men and women – clergy, religious and laity – who serve and minister day to day with the imprisoned in Nassau and Suffolk counties. They are available for spiritual direction and counseling, bible study, celebration of the sacraments and much more. This work is aided by many men and women who offer their time and resources to support the imprisoned.
The “defense of the dignity of those detained” requires us to also look at the system in which the imprisoned find themselves. Three issues raised by NYS Catholic Conference connect to our work on Long Island. First, we need to consider the impact and effect of imprisoning the elderly and the sick that are at very reduced rate for recidivism. Second, the Church has great concerns when it comes to the use of solitary confinement and other measures that isolate the individual. There is a greater awareness of the negative impact (and cost) of this practice and the state is encouraging the reduction of this practice. The same encouragement is applied to all jails and prisons. Finally, as Howard Duff indicated in his recent article in this series, the lack of available resources for the mentally ill and addicted must be addressed. Many men and women in prison are there specifically because of issues related to substance abuse and mental illness. A recent proposal to consider using the former Foley Nursing Home as a substance abuse treatment facility is worthy of our ongoing attention.
Let us always have a heart filled with compassion and mercy when considering this issue. For in our parishes and communities, we are living, often, with the family members and friends of one who may be incarcerated or one who is seeking to begin his or her life again after a time in prison. Let us see in them the face of Christ and “visit” them in prayer, action and advocacy.
Deacon Jim McLaughlin, the Director of the Office of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, presented at both diocesan preparation sessions for Catholics at the Capitol. For more information about the work of prison ministry in our diocese as well as resources for family members and friends of the imprisoned, e-mail email@example.com or call the office at 631.969.0837. Father John Sureau is the chairperson of the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(CNS file photo/Karen Callaway, Northwest Indiana Catholic)