Wendell Griffen boycotting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit" | Arkansas Blog

Wendell Griffen boycotting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit"

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GRIFFEN: Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit" is a charade.
  • GRIFFEN: Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit" is a charade.
Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen will not be attending Gov. Asa Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit," set to be held on August 25 and 26 at the Marriott Hotel in Little Rock, and Griffen is encouraging others to boycott the event. 

Last month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for the summit, a gathering of faith-based leaders to discuss solutions on two issues facing the state: the shortage of foster homes for children in Department of Human Services custody, and the lack of services for former prison inmates reentering society. 

Griffen, an ordained Baptist minister, has been critical of the governor on issues of criminal justice reform.

Griffen addressed his letter to Milton Graham, a Baptist pastor and director of the the Department of Human Services and Department of Children and Family Services of Pulaski County. Graham is on the Steering committee of the Summit and sent an evite to the event to Griffen and others.

Griffen derided the summit as a "charade" and the "latest exercise in political hypocrisy about justice, liberty, and hope." From Griffen's response: 

I have publicly criticized this and the previous administration about governmental policies and practices responsible for producing the largest population of incarcerated persons in Arkansas' history. Those policies, not anything faith leaders are doing, have done, or may be asked to do, lie at the foot of the Arkansas version of mass incarceration. I have carefully examined public statements by Governor Hutchinson and others about what he has called "criminal justice reform."

Respectfully, the public (and now faithful people and leaders) are now being invited to embrace measures that will not do anything to "release the captives." Most of the people now in prisons, jails, and other adult detention facilities (whether in Arkansas or whether shipped and warehoused for tens of thousands of dollars per inmate in other jurisdictions) are non-violent offenders. In fact, the top ten offenses responsible for incarceration in 2014 included only one violent offense (battery in the second degree) according to data compiled by the Arkansas Department of Correction. Drug convictions were far and away the reasons most people were incarcerated last year.

Faith leaders are now, as in the past, being asked to lend our moral authority to a hypocritical agenda that will not address any of the root causes of the non-violent crimes that are responsible for mass incarceration. We are being asked to lend our moral authority to the fruit of racial profiling, draconian laws that criminalize the public health issue of drug abuse and dependency, sentencing legislation, and the entire prison-industrial complex that has now made it possible for non-violent incarcerated persons and the business of catching, sentencing, and warehousing them to be commodified.

His letter goes on to criticize Hutchinson on early childhood education, community mental health centers, drug abuse and dependency treatment centers, job training programs for ex-offenders, affordable housing for ex-offenders, and other issues. 

Full letter after the jump: 

Dear Pastor Graham,

Thank you for including me among the addressees to whom you forwarded the evite about Governor Hutchinson's "Restore Hope Summit." I am writing you and copying other addressees to (1) respectfully announce my decision to boycott the event and (2) set out why I will not encourage others to attend it.

I have publicly criticized this and the previous administration about governmental policies and practices responsible for producing the largest population of incarcerated persons in Arkansas' history. Those policies, not anything faith leaders are doing, have done, or may be asked to do, lie at the foot of the Arkansas version of mass incarceration. I have carefully examined public statements by Governor Hutchinson and others about what he has called "criminal justice reform."

Respectfully, the public (and now faithful people and leaders) are now being invited to embrace measures that will not do anything to "release the captives." Most of the people now in prisons, jails, and other adult detention facilities (whether in Arkansas or whether shipped and warehoused for tens of thousands of dollars per inmate in other jurisdictions) are non-violent offenders. In fact, the top ten offenses responsible for incarceration in 2014 included only one violent offense (battery in the second degree) according to data compiled by the Arkansas Department of Correction. Drug convictions were far and away the reasons most people were incarcerated last year.

Faith leaders are now, as in the past, being asked to lend our moral authority to a hypocritical agenda that will not address any of the root causes of the non-violent crimes that are responsible for mass incarceration. We are being asked to lend our moral authority to the fruit of racial profiling, draconian laws that criminalize the public health issue of drug abuse and dependency, sentencing legislation, and the entire prison-industrial complex that has now made it possible for non-violent incarcerated persons and the business of catching, sentencing, and warehousing them to be commodified.

Governor Hutchinson did not champion early childhood education during the legislative session this year. He has not proposed any measures to expand and strengthen community mental health centers, drug abuse and dependency treatment centers, job training programs for ex-offenders, affordable housing for ex-offenders, and eliminate previous criminal conviction on employment applications. And remarkably, he has not suggested even a desire to address these matters (whether with faithful people or others).

In short, the "Restore Hope Summit" is a charade. Faith leaders are not being "summoned" (what happens when someone convenes a "summit") to engage in candid conversation with Governor Hutchinson and other policy makers aimed at doing justice or anything else remotely akin to restoring hope. We are merely being invited to endorse measures responsible for the despair associated with what Professor Michelle Alexander has correctly exposed and denounced as "the new Jim Crow."

I decline the invitation to be part of this latest exercise in political hypocrisy about justice, liberty, and hope.

Sincerely,

Wendell Griffen



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