April 22, 2015
The Minnesota Catholic Conference, of which I am president, has been proud to play a leading role in the Restore the Vote coalition. We believe that giving those who have offended an opportunity to participate in important decisions affecting their community will 1) help renew the lives of those who have offended; 2) reduce recidivism; 3) help foster the political participation of minority communities disproportionately affected by the current criminal justice system; and 4) conserve public resources.
Solidarity with crime victims requires us to insist that those who have committed crimes be held responsible and pay their debt to society. But ensuring the well-being of our communities also means working for the reintegration of offenders, who are often banished to the margins of society. We should seek responses to crime that do not simply punish, but also rehabilitate, heal, and restore. In other words, does disenfranchising felons-after the justice system has concluded that they should be living and working in the community and rebuilding their lives-serve any positive criminal justice purpose, or is it merely punishment for punishment’s sake?
There is no doubt that offenders already face a significant amount of collateral consequences once they leave prison or jail. Often, they have difficulties finding housing or employment. We have heard from countless offenders that the hardest thing they have done is come out of prison and rebuild their lives. In many cases, they are being nudged back and forth between what they know-a life of crime and substance addiction-and what they must re-learn: staying sober and responsible, which is often very difficult because of a lack of support.
The inability to vote and have a say in decisions that affect their family is another stumbling block faced by those trying to reconcile themselves to the community. Yet, the restoration of voting rights has been an important signpost for many that they do not have a chance at redemption and can forgo a new path in their lives.
Pope Francis has said that where there is no mercy, there is no justice. Offering a second chance to those who have offended serves the common good of all Minnesotans. Thank you for your consideration.
The most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis