Funds that `should go to reform’ are building more prisons

Funds that `should go to reform’ are building more prisons – Brief Article

Arthur Jones

The engine driving the unprecedented number of incarcerations today, argue Pauline and Charles Sullivan, “is the half-billion dollars the federal government is each year giving the states to build more prisons. We’ve got to stop that.”

The Sullivans, co-founders of CURE: Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, for more than a quarter-century have been lobbying for criminal justice reform.

“We have 2 million people in prisons, half under 30, most for drug crimes, and there’s no money to provide drug treatment because it’s all going into buildings.”

The Sullivans, who attended the National Cathedral Restorative and Transformative Justice Conference that Fr. Jim Consedine addressed, understand prison from the inside.

In the early 1970s, as anti-war protesters, they were arrested in the May Day 1971 rally in Washington. For Pauline, who formerly was a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet, and Charles, who had been a priest of the Mobile/Birmingham, Ala., diocese, that jail experience, along with visiting incarcerated friends, alerted them to the problems associated with prisons.

“Back then, gas was cheap,” said Charles Sullivan, “so we traveled the country and then were living in a van on Capitol Hill, lobbying for reform.”

Then came Attica, the September 1971 prison riot in upstate New York that was suppressed amid much bloodshed. “We didn’t have a TV in the van. We heard it on the radio. We knew prisons and jails were terrible. We decided to return to Texas. We ran a bus service taking families to prisons, and that grew into an advocacy group.”

In the 1980s they moved back to Washington. They no longer live in a van, but they do live simply as they lobby Capitol Hill and organize national conferences: no telephone at home, no car (both ride bicycles) and if you call them long-distance and at their little desk at St. Aloysius Church and ask them to return your call, they’ll have to call back collect.

“We live a lifestyle that’s very comfortable. We’re not starving or whatever,” said the elegantly (thrift-store) suited Sullivan en route to the National Cathedral. “We’re in good health — just very, very conscious of how we spend money.”

For more information, contact CURE: P.O. Box 2310, Washington D.C. 20013. Tel: 202-789-2126. Web site: E-mail:

COPYRIGHT 1999 National Catholic Reporter

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