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August 6, 2007

Churches interested in sentencing redemption retribution

This AP article describes an interesting new role for churches in the operation of the criminal justice system.  Here are some highlights:

John Becknell enters the courtroom and finds his usual spot in the front row, just behind the prosecutor's table.  Becknell — a devout Christian known to many as "Brother John" — pulls out a pen and an inch-thick docket, mostly of drug and alcohol cases. For the next three hours, he takes diligent notes on the judge's actions, the attendance of police officers, repeat offenders making another appearance, and so on.

The purpose?  To make sure drug offenders in eastern Kentucky are getting what they deserve. Frustrated with widespread drug abuse — especially of easily accessible prescription painkillers — a handful of mountain churches are moving away from their traditional role as a refuge for the poor and addicted.  Now they're more interested in law enforcement.

The Community Church of Manchester is leading the way through "Court Watch," a program in which volunteers attend court hearings to monitor judges overseeing drug-related cases.... The Rev. Doug Abner, pastor at Community Church — whose slogan for a 2004 anti-drug march was "get saved or get busted" — said the presence of Court Watch volunteers puts "mild pressure" on judges "to do the right thing."...

August 6, 2007 at 02:11 AM | Permalink


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Okay, uncle, I give up. How do I get a ticket to move to another planet?

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Aug 6, 2007 11:34:24 AM

I'm with ya. Stop the world and let me off.

Posted by: | Aug 6, 2007 11:44:55 AM

I think we need to put this into perspective. This is a rarity. Mainstream churches (including eastern religions with a critical mass in the US) do not seem to be doing this. In fact, such churches are generally helpful to counsel in providing certain faith-tinged social services (when the defendant agrees).

Now, what I think is sort of interesting, is it isn’t clear whether these guys really understand what is going on or not. Sure, they might see apparently lenient sentences, but they might not understand how they fit into the state’s sentencing scheme or local practice.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 6, 2007 12:03:00 PM

Here's the kicker: "Desperate for a solution, Becknell began to work with Operation UNITE, a federally funded drug task force that covers 29 counties in southeastern Kentucky and which created Court Watch."

Must be part of BushCo's compassionate conservatism.

Posted by: George | Aug 6, 2007 1:37:30 PM

George, I don't think that they are really giving the full story here. They use words like "work with" but it seems like they just wrote a few letters and had a friendly conversation. I do not think that UNITE "created" court watch, but I might be wrong.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 6, 2007 2:51:17 PM

They have seats in courtrooms for the public to use while they watch the proceedings so I guess court watching is ok, but in this day bench trials are unusual and and jury trials uncommon. I suppose one could collect data on judicial sentencing practices but I do not think it would be a good idea to use such data to intimidate a judge. When FDR attempted to intimidate SCOTUS by threatening to pack it it was not one of his better ideas.

People write letters to the editor complaining about sentencing decisions and on occasion they have their facts straight but often it is just an ideologically based rant. On occasion there will be billboards opposing the retention of a particular judge in states where they have to run to be retained. I don't have a count but my impression is that most judges are retained with comfortable pluralities.

Posted by: JSN | Aug 6, 2007 4:44:30 PM


Primary funding for Operation UNITE has come through federal grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Justice Assistance. To date, nearly $32 million from the DOJ has been earmarked for the counter-drug initiative. In addition, UNITE has received approximately $1.6 million in National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funding through contracts with Eastern Kentucky University’s Justice and Safety Center, College of Justice and Safety, and The Center For Rural Development.


Posted by: George | Aug 6, 2007 5:05:12 PM

But did they "create" CW was what I was wondering.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 7, 2007 4:21:45 PM

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