Criminal Justice

Is It Time for a Paradigm Shift?

June 14, 2016
What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails. I remember this rhyme from my childhood. It suggested that girls are made of nice things (sugar and spice, and everything nice), and boys were made for trouble.

If one were writing the rhyme today, what would it say? Perhaps guns, video games, and violence? Our society has changed in the last 50 years, from the innocence of pranks such as pulling girls’ pigtails to having a handgun tucked in your belt. Children grow up surrounded by violence, and it has had a disastrous effect on our sons.

In her documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the descent of the male adolescent. In 2015, guns killed over 3,590 children under 18. The statistics do not include other types of violent death. Most of these were boys. Every day mothers cry in the streets over sons who have been gunned down. They are like “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more" (Jeremiah 31:15).

Lack of common sense gun laws is part of the problem, but it is much more complicated than that. Our children are exposed to violence from a very young age. As the documentary shows, society teaches boys that they are weak if they express their feelings in “feminine” ways. They learn to repress their feelings. When they internalize pain, hurt, and anger, they are like time bombs waiting to go off.

Children and teens today do not know the world without the Internet. "Today about 80 percent of teens between 12 and 17 own a cell phone, and about half of those own a smartphone," said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League. "That's about twice the rate from just two years ago." [1] Cell phones can make our lives more convenient and keep us in touch with our children. However, smartphones can also be a child’s gateway into a world of violence and sex. The same is true for any other device that grants unmonitored access to the Internet. reports that

·         two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day

·         kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs

·         kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. [2]

What are our children learning from all of this exposure? They see the same things that we see. They can watch the same television programs, view the same pornography, play the same video games. If parents are not supervising their viewing, they are limited only by their curiosity and imaginations.

As a culture, we are infatuated with violence. Even while we decry and mourn mass shootings, we gather in front of our TVs and computers, grab our remote controls and video consoles, and engage in violent behaviors either as active participants or as voyeurs.

Unfortunately, many children experience violence first hand. According to an article in the Juvenile Justice Bulletin, “More than 1 in 9 (11 percent) were exposed to some form of family violence in the past year, including 1 in 15 (6.6 percent) exposed to IPV [intimate partner violence] between parents (or between a parent and that parent’s partner). One in four children (26 percent) were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes. Most youth exposed to family violence, including 90 percent of those exposed to IPV, saw the violence, as opposed to hearing it or other indirect forms of exposure. [3]

Our favorite pastimes – sports and games – have become more violent as we seek a bigger thrill and focus on winning at all costs. Children view this form of violence on TV and in person when they attend events. It also occurs on their playing fields. Coaches and teammates criticize, bully, and verbally abuse players. Coaches and parents model behaviors that are aggressive and sometimes completely out of control.

We are out of control.

As Americans mourn yet another senseless tragedy in Orlando, we have to ask ourselves, “Is it time for a paradigm shift?” A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in thought, action, and belief. It is just such a fundamental change that we need in the United States.

Can faith communities be the catalysts for this kind of shift? Can we create spaces and opportunities for conversations, education, and resourcing to help our country end its love affair with violence? Listed below are a few ideas of what we can do. The list is not exhaustive, but a beginning place:

·         Bring communities together to view “The Mask You Live In,” and other such documentaries, followed by discussion.

·         Offer classes and resources for parents and grandparents on raising children without violence. (i.e. and Many denominations and parachurch organizations provide curricula and resources for study.

·         Preach and teach Biblical and theological concepts such as grace, love, peacemaking, non-violence, and mercy.

·         Encourage parents to consider all the consequences of allowing young children cell phones and other Internet-connected devices.

·         Provide information on child-monitoring and blocking apps for media devices.

·         Ask parents and extended families to take a pledge to monitor their children’s exposure to inappropriate media, and refuse to buy video games and movies that contain violent images.

·         Lobby legislators for common sense gun laws.

·         Lobby media companies to offer alternatives to violent and sexual games and programming.

Faith groups want to have a prophetic and relative voice in today’s world. They struggle to find a central focus for their mission and ministry. What if creating this paradigm shift is our calling?






[3], October 2011.

Poll Finds ‘Remarkable’ Consensus Among Kentuckians in Favor of Criminal Justice Reform

From Stephenie Hoelscher,

Majority of Kentucky Voters Support Removing Barriers that Make it More Difficult for Former Offenders to Find Jobs; Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition Working to Ease Reentry into Society at State Level

FRANKFORT, Ky. (February 17, 2016) – A poll of Kentucky voters released Wednesday finds broad, bipartisan support for reforming the criminal justice system, affirming the efforts by the Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition to remove barriers that make it more difficult for former offenders to find jobs and re-enter society.

The Tarrance Group, on behalf of the U.S. Justice Action Network, conducted a survey of voters in six states, including likely voters in Kentucky, revealing voter attitudes toward criminal justice reform. A majority of voters in every age group and both political parties agreed that the government spends too much money to imprison nonviolent offenders, that the main goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitating offenders, and that barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs should be removed.

The U.S. Justice Action Network is a broad, bipartisan coalition working to reform the criminal justice system at the national level. Responses to this survey were gathered January 19-21. The margin of error is ± 4.5 percent.

“The pollsters say the amount of consensus on re-entry and criminal justice reform is remarkable given the partisan political climate we are in today,” Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition spokesman Russell Coleman said. “Of course, given the consensus that exists among the diverse groups represented in our coalition, this only confirms what we already knew. Kentuckians of all stripes are ready for common-sense reforms that will save tax dollars, make our communities safer and help our economy.

Coleman said he is especially heartened by the percentage of voters who support removing barriers that make it difficult for former offenders to find jobs. Fifty-five percent of Kentucky Republicans and 66 percent of Kentucky Democrats surveyed believe those barriers should be removed.

“This viewpoint is why the coalition’s main priority during the ongoing legislative session is to establish a process by which qualifying former offenders who have served their time can have their records expunged,” Coleman said.

The coalition consists of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

 To learn more about the coalition, visit or follow us on social media.


by Peggy Hinds

Yesterday I sent an Action Alert about Senate Bill 2123, The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. I mentioned that two of our board members are in Washington advocating for the bill. Well, I was wrong. There are three KCC board members in Washington meeting with officials. Below is a message from The Reverend Anthony Everett and The Reverend Kenneth Golphin.

"Reverend Kenneth Golphin (Kentucky Council of Churches Treasurer), Mr. William Saunders (Lexington NAACP President), and I have scheduled meetings for the Sentencing Reform Lobby Day on Capitol Hill with staff persons for both US Senators (KY) Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul in attempts to move US S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, to the senate floor for a vote.  The lobby day is sponsored by the ACLU, The Leadership Conference, the NAACP, and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition. A third meeting has been scheduled for us by Mr. Saunders with US Representative (KY) Andy Barr to discuss our support of a similar house bill, US H. R. 3713, the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.

As an at-large Human Rights Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and an United Methodist clergy concerned with restorative justice, I believe this legislation, if passed, will be a crucial first step to reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and curbing recidivism, especially amongst ethnic and poor people throughout the entire state.  This 'smart on crime' bipartisan bill is a necessary step toward allowing for punishments to fit the crime and a new prioritization regarding drug enforcement resources.  Other states have revamped their sentencing policies, reduced their prison populations, and seen their crime rates continue to drop, all the while saving billions of dollars.  This will be good for Kentucky and I am glad that Senator Rand Paul is a cosponsor.  We can all support this effort by calling the US Senate at 1 (866) 338-5720 to register our views with both senators."                           -- The Reverend Anthony Everett

“In addition to love and forgiveness the church ought to be about fairness, and about encouraging political leadership to be about the same. To quote the talking points we'll be using ‘Punishments should fit the crime. For far too long, federal sentencing laws have taken a blunt approach to crime that has served neither public safety nor justice. This approach has ruined families and exploded the prison population. This bill takes a good first step toward a more reasonable, rational approach to public safety and sentencing that will reduce mass incarceration in the United States.’ "                                              – The Reverend Kenneth Golphin

Although these two gentlemen and The Reverend Amariah McIntosh are in Washington on behalf other organizations, they also represent KCC. I am grateful for their leadership in this effort. Again, I encourage each of our members and friends to contact Senators and Representatives to thank them for this bipartisan effort and encourage their support. 

Justice impaired, justice denied

by Peggy Hinds

 Early in my tenure as the interim ED, I was asked by the Kentucky Bar Association to serve on a task force considering fair compensation for public defenders and prosecutors. I agreed, not knowing exactly what it had to do with the mission of KCC. At the first task force meeting, I felt totally out of place in a room full of lawyers and judges, and again questioned my participation.

 How is the compensation of prosecutors and public defenders and their staff relative to the mission of the Kentucky Council of Churches? I soon discovered the answer to this question.

 Prosecutors and public defenders implement our constitutional principles. They are essential in, and primarily responsible for, the operation and fair administration of our system of justice. Liberty and public safety hang in the balance.

 Justice is the first virtue of society,[1] and an essential tenet of civil and religious traditions.[2] The timely administration of true justice is due every person, without regard to status or economic condition.[3] Society has particular responsibility for people who do not have the means to provide a just defense for themselves.

Pope Francis stated that "Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities."[4]

 When there is a high rate of turnover among prosecutors and public defenders, cases are delayed and then, too often, handled by inexperienced replacements without the knowledge, understanding and training of those they replaced. The inevitable consequence of high turnover and inexperience is a lack of justice for those who rely upon public defense, as well as those who are victims of crime. We can call ourselves a just society only when we provide equal justice for all.  

 In its policy statement “Call to Justice,” the Council defines justice from a biblical perspective.

“In Scripture “justice” is not synonymous with “punishment.” When God speaks of “justice,” more is implied than persons “getting what they have coming to them.” God’s justice requires that all persons have equal access to God’s gifts and that no partiality or preference of any kind be given to any person or groups of persons. There is always also the element of grace and mercy behind the “justice” that God brings. It assures not just what is deserved, but more than what is deserved; and mercy is always offered to all equally. “Injustice” is always seen as taking more than one’s “fair” (equal) share at the expense of someone else.”[5]

 People who can afford a private attorney have an unfair advantage over defendants who have to rely on public defenders. It is not that public defenders are less qualified or that they care less about their clients. They are underpaid and overburdened with cases. The state loses the most qualified and experienced defenders because they are drawn to higher paying private practices or to other states that pay their public defenders and prosecutors significantly more than the Commonwealth. Overall, Kentucky public defenders make about 23% less on average than an attorney doing the same job in one of the surrounding states. 

 Currently, the respective staffs of the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Advocacy have their salaries inappropriately suppressed because the state bases the salary of these employees on a 37.5 hour work week. The important work of the employees of these agencies should not be limited to 37.5 hours per week. The salaries should be based on a regular 40-hour work week, just as is the case for many other state agencies.   Salaries for all prosecution and defender staff should be increased 6.67% to accommodate this increase in service to the Commonwealth.

 Retention of public defenders and prosecutors will ensure that the accused and victims of crime have the experience and knowledge essential to a proper and timely trial. It will also save the state and tax payers money because replacing attorneys and training new staff cost more than appropriate compensation.

 To ensure public safety, benefit taxpayers and reduce the cost of the criminal justice system, the KBA Task Force is asking for a 23% increase in the salaries of prosecutors and public defenders, along with other measures that will put Kentucky in line with the average of the surrounding states. As Christians, who have a heart for justice and equality for all people, we can be supportive of the Task Force’s request because it will make a significant difference for victims and accused.


[1] Rawls, John, 1971, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 3. See also, Slote, Michael, "Justice as a Virtue", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

[2] "Our Rabbis taught: ...The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied...“ Pirkei Avot 5:7, section Mishnah (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE);  “…he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” Luke 18:8; Zechariah 7:9. "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'" Psalm 82:3. "Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." Exodus 23:6. "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits."

[3] "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice,“ Magna Carta (1215) Cl.40 ; "Our Law says well, 'To delay justice, is injustice.'" William Penn, Fruits of Solitude 69 (11th ed. 1906)(1693)“; "Justice too long delayed is justice denied“ -Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

[4] Rice-Oxley, Mark,

[5] KENTUCKY COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, Policy Statement: A Call For Justice, Commission on Justice Ministries, Adopted by the 44th Annual Assembly, October 11-12, 1991.