Catholic social teaching is built upon the conviction that every human person bears the image of God. This conviction has social, cultural, economic, and political implications; it demands that we treat all members of our society as fully human persons. Every human person has the right to be provided with the necessary resources to live with dignity, in unity and equality with all people. Responding then to addictions with treatment enables a person to live fully as a member of God’s family. Incarceration not only inhibits rehabilitation but further damages the individuals and their families.Too many of our children are growing up amidst violence and neglect; their lives are impacted by trauma. They live disconnected from the very persons who are charged with their well-being: family, church, school, community. They struggle with feelings of worthlessness and often have little hope for a future. Too often they are labeled a menace to society and are seen as the problem.
The punitive approach to the drug problem in the US further isolates and causes harm to the person, their family, and their community. The punitive nature of dealing with the drug problem in the US within the criminal justice system only exasperates the problem and further isolates someone from their family/community. Rehabilitation and treatment provide the person(s) with the tools to overcome their drug addictions/problems and live as contributing members of society.
The Catholic Church maintains that every person bears the potential for redemption and restoration to full relationships with both God and neighbor.
Mass incarceration, fueled by the drug policies in the US, is the result of economic, cultural, political, and social factors coalescing into a drive for a more punitive criminal justice system. At the same time, the punitive approach to the crime helps sustain social injustices that marginalize, disempower, and endanger our neighbors and communities. The punitive approach to the drug problem causes money to be funneled away from education, mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment, job training and development that could contribute to the wellbeing of the disconnected members of our society.
The most important part of combating the drug problem in the US is to build and fortify a strong, inclusive community. Drug prevention and rehabilitation is a public health issue that requires a treatment/supportive, holistic approach.
David Kelly is a Catholic priest of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. He is the Executive Director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), a restorative justice project/community in the Back-of-the-Yards/Englewood communities. He has worked for Kolbe House at Assumption, a parish-based jail ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago, since 1985.