Writing through the lens of lectionary passages for this Lenten season, an incredible group of activists, theologians, pastors, writers, and thinkers reflect on how 50 years of mass incarceration has brought about devastation to individuals, families, and entire communities, especially communities of color. Yet, even in the midst of institutionalized oppression, this study will highlight individuals and movements which have created long-lasting change. Lent is a season of repentance for the harms done to others and it is also a time for hope in the resurrection when love conquered hate and past harm has found healing. Our hope is that this study will be a means for you to experience both the call to repentance and a rebirth of hope that the retributive nature of mass incarceration can be transformed into a justice system that heals and restores.

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Over five million people in total are under supervision by the criminal legal system while nearly two million people, disproportionately Black, are living in prisons and jails instead of their communities. In the early 1970s, the number was 360,000

Imprisonment leads to declining prospects for employment, lower long-term earnings, food insecurity, housing instability, and reliance on public assistance

For children, imprisonment of a parent leads to significant declines in academic and health outcomes

High levels of incarceration also destabilizes entire communities, leading to dissolution of informal networks that are known to serve as barriers to neighborhood crime

In 1972, the incarceration rate was 93 per 100,000 people. As of January 2023, the incarceration rate was the sixth highest in the world, at 505 per 100,000 people

Today, one in seven imprisoned people is serving a life sentence. Black Americans comprise 55% of those serving life without the possibility of parole

In 48 states, a felony conviction can result in an individual’s loss of voting rights. As of 2022, 4.6 million Americans were unable to vote due to state laws restricting voting rights for those with felony convictions. Among voting-age African Americans, 5.3 percent is disenfranchised compared to 1.5 percent of the adult non-African American population

Incarcerating youth with adults is associated with heighten physical and sexual abuse as well as higher rates of recidivism upon release