In Our Name Initiative Stimulates Grassroots Discussion of Criminal Justice Reform

Local forum probes role of faith communities in reform and restorative justice.
Feb 16, 2016 3:15 PM ET
Press Release

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY., February 16, 2016 /3BL Media/ The in Our Name Initiative of the Skidmore College Project on Restorative Justice will present a community forum titled “Criminal Justice Reform: Motivating and Mobilizing the Faith Community for Restorative Justice” on Saturday, March 12, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Bethesda Episcopal Church in Saratoga Springs, 26 Washington Street. The event is free and open to the public.

The discussion will explore reforms needed to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system in New York State and the U.S. and the roadblocks facing formerly incarcerated men and women as they attempt to re-enter society.

Among the forum speakers will be Sheila Rule, former New York Times correspondent and co-founder and executive director of the Think Outside the Cell Foundation, who will discuss "The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal: Creating a More Honest, Humane Narrative About People Convicted of Violent Crimes." Inspired by her experience with the prison ministry program of Riverside Church in New York City, Rule spearheaded the launch of her foundation in 2010 to help former prisoners and their families overcome what she calls “the long shadow of prison.”

“The stigma of incarceration plays out in so many ways,” said Rule, who points to the challenges of combatting stereotypes and obtaining employment, housing, public benefits, and the right to vote. “It is something that is a huge barrier to a successful life, to really re-joining society and making some type of contribution. It makes living heavy lifting.”

Another event speaker will be Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, a not-for-profit organization that helps provide quality legal representation to low-income people. The association operates the Public Defense Backup Center in Albany, which provides support for public defense lawyers statewide with legal research, consultation, and training. Gradess’s topic will be “How to Repair a Broken Criminal Justice System.”

“The Role of the Community in Restorative Justice” will be the topic of a presentation by David Karp, professor of sociology at Skidmore College and director of the college’s Project on Restorative Justice. Restorative justice involves collaborative decision-making that includes offenders, victims, and others seeking to hold offenders accountable. The process requires that offenders acknowledge responsibility for their actions, take agreed-upon steps to repair the harm they have caused, and work to build constructive relationships. Karp’s scholarship focuses on restorative justice in community and campus settings and on prison programs that prepare inmates for return to the community.

“Named for the springs in Jerusalem where Christ himself healed the infirm (John 5:1-5), Bethesda Episcopal Church is transforming itself through its service to the community, including the development a new parish house and community center adjacent to the church,” said the Very Rev. Marshall J. Vang, interim rector of the church and former dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Albany. “Working with the Skidmore Project on Restorative Justice, we are hosting this first forum to raise awareness about concerns that challenge people of faith to take action, heal, and restore.”

A key theme will be the ways in which communities of faith can participate in the reform movement. Gordon Boyd, Bethesda vestry member and coordinator of the event for the parish, said, “During the Lenten season, Christians prepare for the events of Holy Week with a sense of the responsibility they bear for the process and outcome of the justice systems operating ‘in our name.’ With this forum, we are eager to explore how our scriptural lessons apply today.”

The event sponsor is First Fairfield Associates, LLC, a social enterprise firm offering consulting services nationwide. The group also acts as a direct venture capital source and re-positioning partner for start-ups committed to positive social and community impact. First Fairfield has offices in Ridgefield, Conn., and Saratoga Springs.

The March 12 forum is the first in a series of events to be hosted by Bethesda Episcopal Church of Saratoga Springs to raise awareness about issues of justice and healing that are of importance to the community.

For more information on the event and the coming series contact Gordon Boyd at, 518-441-8815.