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Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network (PCJN)

"Ending the mass incarceration crisis and putting people before profit."

Welcome to PHEWA's newest network! In February, 2012, 35 people came together at Stony Point Conference Center in New York to engage in an intensive three day process of personal sharing, education, asset mapping and future visioning. By the end of their time together, this group of individuals from twelve states and every region of the country had coalesced into the beginnings of a network, united in the goal of transforming our nation's broken criminal justice system.

This gathering was the result of General Assembly action in 2010 instructing PHEWA to hold a consultation with the goal of creating a new PHEWA network focused on criminal justice issues.

For more information about this gathering, go to Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice to read Patrick Heery's account, or to the PC(USA) website for Jim Nedelka's report.

Presbyterian Criminal Justice Sunday

PHEWA’s Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network (PCJN) members offer these worship resources in observation of Presbyterian Criminal Justice Sunday. This year, according to the Presbyterian Planning Calendar, Presbyterian Criminal Justice Sunday fell on January 25.  Whether you observe Criminal Justice Sunday on this designated date or set a different time that works better for your congregation or worshiping community, we hope that you find this material to be useful.  It is also our hope and prayer that, beyond observation of Criminal Justice Sunday, we will all work together to ensure a place for everyone at the Lord’s Table where the gifts of all God’s people are valued and affirmed.

In her 2009 Reflection for Criminal Justice Sunday, one of the founding members of PHEWA’s Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network (PCJN), our beloved Annie Rawlings (1957-2013), shared this prophetic word which may be helpful to you as you plan your own observance of Presbyterian Criminal Justice Sunday, and consider ongoing programming and actions throughout the year, toward reform of this country’s criminal justice system:

“… And I hope we can all draw on the best of our theological understanding, and the best strengths gleaned from whatever suffering any of us has endured, to remember that within the human family the question of how we stay family after we have hurt each other is one of the principal challenges of community. There are people in prison who have caused harm – sometimes deadly harm. We have ALL hurt someone. We have hurt each other through exclusion. We have hurt each other through scapegoating. We have hurt each other through a tolerance for poverty around the world and close to home. We have hurt each other through any number of things we have done or not done. The need for confession is upon us ALL. The need for reconciliation is before us ALL. We must not let people in prison become the “demonized other” upon whom we project the shadows of our own impulses towards violence of greater or lesser degree. We instead must connect with the humanity of people in prison, and who have been in prison, from that place in each of us that wants to be part of the whole, that wants to feel worthy, that wants a chance, that longs to experience the dignity associated with being a child of God, and longs to have that dignity affirmed by others.” (Full text of Annie Rawlings’ Reflection is available at:

Presbyterian Criminal Justice Sunday Resource: Download

The Power of Presence

caitlin werthThe Rev. Caitlin Werth, member of PHEWA’s Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network (PCJN) and one of the organizers of our January 24-25, 2014 Ecumenical Gathering Event, PLACE-MAKING, writes powerful reflections on ministry, with call to action, in her November 4, 2013 article “The Power of Presence,” in Unbound; An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice. Caitlin serves as the director of the HOPE Pre-Release Program at Allegheny County Jail, an inter-faith, rehabilitative, re-entry program for men and women who want to restore their relationship with their God, rebuild their lives, and reconcile to their community.


She, like many others, had asked me about her case. Her rights as a parent were in danger of being terminated, and she wanted to get into a housing program before her approaching hearing. I explained to her that I am not a social worker and offered to connect her to one, but I felt compelled to look into her case as well. Like many others who work in a jail full of people eager to find their way out, I am frequently approached with these requests.

I found out that she would not be cleared to get into any alternative housing program, as there were warrants out for her arrest in other counties. I debated how to (or even whether I should) share this information with her. Later that day, I went to her housing pod to speak with her again and pass on the message. 

Read more

First Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network Action

In their first action as a network, informed by the policy statements of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), participants composed, faxed, emailed and hand delivered letter to the governors of 48 states, challenging them to resist prison privatization.

Future plans include increasing local membership and resource development for congregations who feel a call to respond to this national crisis.

resolutionWhat have General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said about matters related to the criminal justice system of the U.S.A.?

The 215th General Assembly (2003) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons and commended it for churchwide study and implementation. This Resolution makes clear that private prisons are not an economic but a deep religious and ethical issue, a cornerstone of our collective work to put justice back into the so-called criminal justice system of this country.

Download Resolution 

Resolution on Restoring Justice, approved by the 214th General Assembly (2002), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 200th General Assembly (1988) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a statement on "Prison Violence and Nonviolent Alternatives" that reaffirmed the theology of previous General Assemblies in urging that "individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system."

Download Resolution

Capital Punishment

Read an overview of G.A. actions on capital punishment

Language is Important…

We are grateful to colleagues from the Prison/re-Entry Working Group of the Presbytery of New York City for calling our attention to this 2007 Open Letter to Our Friends, “We Are People…just like you” written by staff persons for what is now The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions (CNUS), “the first and only independent public policy, research, training and advocacy organization designed and developed by formerly incarcerated professionals and staffed by people directly impacted by the criminal punishment system.”  This is a reiteration of the desires of many in the disability-rights community, to please become familiar with and come to use People First Language.  As Kathie Snow points out there, “It is about respect and dignity; putting the person, not any condition, first.”

Excerpts from “Open Letter to Our Friends” include:

“… One of our first initiatives is to respond to the negative public perception about our population as expressed in the language and concepts used to describe us. When we are not called mad dogs, animals, predators, offenders and other derogatory terms, we are referred to as inmates, convicts, prisoners and felons. All terms devoid of humanness which identify us as “things” rather than as people. While these terms have achieved a degree of acceptance, and are the “official” language of the media, law enforcement, the prison industrial complex and public policy agencies, they are no longer acceptable for us and we are asking that you stop using them.

“In an effort to assist our transition from prison to our communities as responsible citizens and to create a more positive human image of ourselves, we are asking everyone to stop using these negative terms and to simply refer to us as PEOPLE. People currently or formerly incarcerated, PEOPLE on parole, PEOPLE recently released from prison, PEOPLE in prison, PEOPLE with criminal convictions, but PEOPLE…”

Other Resources:

  • 2009 resources from the Prison/Reentry Working Group, The Council for Witness in Society and the World, Presbytery of New York City; Prison/Reentry Ministry & Advocacy: Take a Next Step; Resources for Education and Action
  • Hudson River Presbytery Prison Partnership and their resources and links.
  • Rehabilitation Through the Arts:
  • Prison Legal News (PLN) is an independent 64-page monthly magazine that provides cutting edge review and analysis of prisoner rights, court rulings and news concerning prison-related issues. PLN has a national (U.S.) focus on both state and federal prison issues, with some international coverage as well. PLN provides information that enables those in prison, and other concerned individuals and organizations, to seek the protection and enforcement of the rights of people in prison, at the grassroots level. PLN is published by the Human Rights Defense Center.



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