Challenging the Criminal InJustice System

People in our congregation and our denomination are concerned and sorrowful about injustices in our criminal legal system. The problem has many facets: racial targeting and disproportionality throughout the criminal legal system; the massive scale of incarceration; and a focus on punitive and violent punishment rather than rehabilitative and re-integrating approaches to justice.

The focus of this group over the coming year will be to:

  • Continue to educate ourselves and the congregation about issues related to the criminal legal system, and its many injustices
  • Identify opportunities for advocacy and, and engage the congregation.
  • Build relationships with organizations and people who are working on and affected by these issues.
  • Learn more about how UUC could support people in our own congregation affected by the criminal legal system and incarceration

In doing this work, we are mindful that our church community includes people who have been incarcerated, and people with family members or friends who are, or have been, incarcerated. It includes people who have been victims and survivors of crime, and those with family members or friends who have been victims and survivors of crime. It includes people who work and volunteer in the criminal legal system.

We affirm our intent to create healthy space for all to participate in learning, discussion, spiritual growth, and action.


In February-March 2015, UUC held a four-part series to dig more deeply into these important issues, and move toward action. See below for some of the information and resources from this well-attended class, which resulted in the formation of this new social justice ministry at UUC.

Course Goals:

  1. To raise awareness and understanding about the many justice issues related to our criminal legal system.
  2. To build relationships with organizations and people who are working on and affected by these issues.
  3. To set the foundation for discerning how UUC can take action.

Session 1: The Big Picture. Gain understanding of our criminal legal system and mass incarceration, generally and as a racial justice issue. Guests from the Seattle King County NAACP. As follow-up from this session…

  • Read “The Caging of America,” The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik
  • Read “Your Home is Your Prison,” Truthout, Maya Schenwar
  • In preparation for next week, watch: Passport to the Future: Accessing Higher Education in an Era of Mass Incarceration
  • Want to dig deeper into facts and figures? Check out The Sentencing Project’s Fact Sheets
  • If you weren’t able to join us for the first session, you can get a good rundown of facts and figures about the US corrections system with this fact sheet from The Sentencing Project.  And/or, if fact sheets aren’t your style — try John Oliver’s irreverent but brilliantly sharp take on the subject on HBO’s Last Week Tonight (complete with – we kid you not – some muppets.)

Session 2: Prison. Learn about life inside and after prison. Examine the presumption that incarceration in the US is rehabilitative. Guests from Freedom Education Project Puget Sound. As follow-up from this session…

Session 3: Alternatives. Explore alternatives to punishment via incarceration and violence, such as restorative/transformative justice and the decarceration/prison abolition movements. Guest from the Freedom Project; Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, a project of the American Friends Service Committee in Seattle; and also Lisa Ashley, a UU chaplain at the juvenile detention center. If you weren’t able to join us or would like to explore more from this session:

  • Here is a handout from class which give an historical analysis of our criminal legal system, and also the opening and closing reading (which many of you asked for).
  • Read this article about the use of a restorative circle after the shooting of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams by a Seattle police officer. This gives a good picture of how a restorative justice process works.
  • Want to dig deeper? To learn more about restorative justice…
  • If you’d like to do some preparation for next week, if you’d like a quick read on the death penalty, this Huffington Post article packs a lot of information into a short space. You can find UUA position statements on this issue here.

Session 4: Capital punishment, and Wrap-up. Learn about the U.S. capital punishment system and current efforts to abolish the death penalty in Washington. Spend time on reflection and integration of what we’ve learned. Guest from The Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Good reads:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander. (For a quick dose, see Ms. Alexander’s speech at the UUA General Assembly)
  • Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis
  • Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, Maya Schenwar

Good links: