In the wake of nationwide protests in the United States and around the world, Prison Fellowship calls on lawmakers to 'be a voice for our brothers and sisters of color' and pass reform legislation.

WASHINGTON, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, is issuing the following statements in response to pending police reform legislation in the House and the Senate:

"We mourn with our brothers and sisters of color for the lives unjustly lost, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many more," said James J. Ackerman, president and CEO of Prison Fellowship. "We call for police and justice reform that will both prevent misconduct and bring about meaningful accountability, while also recognizing the necessary and important role of an effective police force. We applaud the initial steps toward these goals through the President's Executive Order and the proposals offered by the Senate and the House. While no bill is yet in a form we can endorse, we pray members of Congress will lean into the energy and urgency of this moment, which demands a comprehensive agenda to address racial injustice and bipartisan cooperation to reach a final package."

"We urge negotiations to continue, including dialogue and action on a federal use of force standard and Qualified Immunity, which does not currently reflect our values of proportional accountability and the need to make amends for wrong-doing," said Heather Rice-Minus, vice president of government affairs and church mobilization for Prison Fellowship. "The unjust treatment of people of color is apparent throughout the justice system, not just in the context of policing. Congress also has a unique opportunity to add amendments that would address racial injustice at other points in the system—such as ending the disparities in federal penalties for powder versus crack cocaine offenses that exacerbate overincarceration in Black communities and investment in transformative opportunities in prison such as restoring Pell Grants for incarcerated students."

Background

  • On Wednesday, June 18, President Donald J. Trump signed the Executive Order, "Safe Policing for Safe Communities." The order tasks the Attorney General to partner with credentialing bodies to certify that state and local law enforcement agencies receiving federal dollars have use of force standards that comply with existing law and prohibit the use of chokeholds except where deadly force is required. Additionally, the order establishes a national database to track police misconduct and promotes more collaboration between police and social workers in responding to mental health crises.

  • The Executive Order was closely followed by the Republican-led Justice Act, which incentivizes state and local governments receiving Department of Justice grant dollars to report on use of force and no-knock warrants and strictly limit use of chokeholds. The Act would also expand use of body cameras, implement new training on de-escalation tactics, and create for law enforcement a national curriculum on the history of racism in America. Wednesday, the legislation failed to garner the 60 votes needed to proceed to a floor amendment process and final vote.

  • The House of Representatives is expected to pass the Democrat-led Justice in Policing Act broadly along party lines. The House bill includes reforms absent from the Senate's Justice Act such as changes to Qualified Immunity, a ban on racial profiling, and a federal use-of-force standard.

Qualified Immunity is a doctrine created by the Supreme Court to prevent civil accountability for government officials if they violate someone's rights while performing the discretionary functions of their jobs. The doctrine protects officials unless their precise actions violate "clearly established" constitutional or statutory rights. Though Qualified Immunity was intended to protect public servants against frivolous lawsuits, it has resulted in cases of egregious misconduct going unchecked.

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