The Catholic University of America




Students Encouraged to Consider Faith-Based Principles in Criminal Justice Issues


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As part of the law school’s ongoing Faith in Action series, Professor Cara H. Drinan hosted a luncheon colloquy with students on Feb. 26 titled “Criminal Justice and Issues of Poverty, Race, and Human Dignity.” Drinan began her remarks by offering some statistics that puncture comfortable myths about a system that purports to offer equal justice for all.  
  • America has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prison population. Two million people are behind bars in the U.S., a quadrupling since 1980
  • 80% of criminal defendants in America cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and are forced to reply upon overworked public defenders who they may not meet until they day they appear in court
  • African-Americans and Hispanics comprise about a quarter of the nation’s population, but represent 60% of its prisoners 
“We have tremendous racial disparity at every level of our criminal justice system,” said Drinan. “Law enforcement is no longer seen as a protector, but as an adversary in these communities.”
Speaking from her own experience of Catholicism, Drinan then offered several examples of how the Bible and Catholic social teaching may intersect with criminal justice policy. Drinan addressed the admonition to love one’s enemies, the concept of making a preferential option for the poor, and the charge to see the spirit of God in all human beings, including the most marginalized among us.

Drinan explained that her presentation was not intended to provide easy answers but rather to encourage reflection on difficult questions. To law students who may in the future play significant roles in the administration of justice, Drinan left them with this one, “how might you reconcile these faith-based principles with the reality of our criminal justice system?”

Drinan is one of four faculty members who will address students this spring as part of the law school’s year-long Faith in Action series. The series is designed to provide a unique opportunity for law students to explore the connections between faith, justice, and service with one another, exchange ideas with guest participants, and participate in some real world service initiatives in the local community.