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Saint Rita, Gun Violence, and Mass Incarceration

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

The U.S. system of Mass Incarceration has historically been based on a model of retribution (punishment for crimes committed against the law) rather than a restorative model which takes a more wholistic view of the harm done by crime and the systemic issues that led to that crime.  Where Retributive Justice seeks only to punish the offender according to the letter of the law, Restorative Justice seeks to heal and reconcile all those impacted by crime (victims, families, the community, and the offender).  In the strictest sense, Retributive Justice seeks to punish someone who commits a violent crime through incarceration of a certain length as calculated from a formula (e.g., second-degree murder equals X number of years in prison).  Such a system is reactive and doesn’t focus on preventing the crime to begin with.

Saint Rita was caught in a retributive model of justice as she married into a family at constant war with another family.  At the murder of her own husband, her in-laws and children reacted with a desire for revenge.  Saint Rita created peace by helping them discover how violence only begets more violence, causing everyone in the community to suffer.  As highlighted earlier, the retributive model of criminal justice in the U.S. has only perpetuated the factors that lead to violence.  As she did in the 15th century, Saint Rita points us to Jesus’ message of peace, reconciliation, and healing as an alternative response to crime.  

Saint Rita as depicted at the National Shrine of Saint Rita in Philadelphia, PA https://www.saintritashrine.org

While incarceration may sometimes still be a way to protect society from the harm of crime, there is substantial evidence that shows we should also be investing in more restorative ways of addressing gun violence, including youth interventions, community-driven safety strategies, and a public health approach to violence.

Through the intercession of Saint Rita, we pray these movements will continue as the U.S. adopts more restorative based practices for those who suffer the effects of gun violence.  

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