Faith summit to critique criminal justice system

A local organization that fights police brutality and community violence will soon be hosting a faith summit to address problems with the criminal justice system.

More than 1,000 people of faith - Christians, Jewish, Muslims and those of other traditions - are expected to attend the event, set for 3 p.m. on Sunday at UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road.

"People of faith realize the current criminal justice system isn't working," says Todd Dietterle, director of the Civic Action Network, a division of Community Renewal Society, which initiated the summit.

"An improved system would take into account the needs of victims, offenders and the communities from which they come from so more crime can be prevented," he says.

Dietterle says that most people who serve jail time end up back in prison within three years, so an alternate system must be considered, one that is rooted in principles of prevention, transformation and restoration.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, says that the current criminal justice system is at odds with America's diverse religious traditions and the concept of democracy itself.

"At the faith summit, we will affirm that all persons are of inherent worth and dignity and deserve humane and compassionate treatment," he says.

The Rev. James Coleman, statewide coordinator of the Community Support Advisory Councils based in the city, adds that the current system's biggest flaw is its lack of emphasis on rehabilitation.

"Some of the biggest issues are training and preparation for individuals before leaving, having the opportunity to be prepared to enter the community again," he says. "The majority of offenders in the criminal justice system don't have GEDs, so it would be good to have education while they're incarcerated and more in-depth job preparedness."

Dietterle says the summit's primary focus will be local and state reform, though the ultimate goal is to achieve change at the federal level.

"We want to introduce an alternative vision going forward and offer very specific things that the legislature can do now to move this briskly on to reform path," he says.

A resource fair, beginning at 1:30 p.m., will precede the summit, giving people a chance to get information about criminal justice issues and learn how they can get involved.

"Anyone who has an interest to learn more about the criminal justice system and suggestions of improving it is welcome to attend," says Dietterle. "People will be there who have loved ones in prison, who would like to see reform of the courts and who realize the direction we're heading in isn't working."

Dietterle also says that members of the Chicago Police Department Civil Rights Division and Cook County Sheriff Department will be present.

The Rev. Dr. Calvin Morris, executive director of Community Renewal Society, says the summit is an important step to accomplish reform, particularly since it will involve people from a variety of walks of life.

"In order to begin to articulate a response from people of faith, it is important to convene the stakeholders and to shape our vision as one voice," he says.

Coleman says the summit will make a strong statement to policy-makers that people care about seeing the justice system reformed.

The event will begin with an interfaith prayer, followed by a statement of purpose and seven "mini presentations" on problems with the criminal justice system, Dietterle says. It will also offer possible solutions and responses from faith leaders, and it will give people a chance to contribute to the discussion.

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