Deacon’s article exposes jail and prison ministry to global audience

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Jail & Prison Min­istry recently received international attention.

Deacon Tom Lang is shown in the photo above (third from left).

An article written by Deacon Tom Lang, the director of the permanent diaconate in the archdio­cese,  appeared in Diaconia Christi Magazine, a biannual publication produced by the International Diaconate Centre. The media outlet features authors such as scientists, deacons, priests, bishops and lay people from different countries. The articles are published in German, English and Spanish.

A piece by Deacon Lang titled “From Jail and Prison Ministry to Restorative Justice” garnered the cover of the most recent issue. Deacons have been involved in the archdiocesan jail and prison ministry for many years, and were instrumental in an expansion of the effort into the lives of people leaving prison, in addition to reaching out to those who are currently incarcerated. 

Deacon Lang’s article begins by recounting the history of the ministry’s expansion since 2001. He then explains how implementing the principals of “restorative justice” through a mentor program and circles of support and accountability has helped to significantly reduce rates of recidivism among people leaving prison who participate in the ministry. This concept of justice focusing on helping heal the wounds of crime victims as well as making the offender atone for their crimes. 

“While we continue to offer visitation and services in our institutions, the bulk of our current 160-plus volunteers work with these Restorative Justice programs,” wrote Lang in the magazine article. “Offenders who participate in our programs have a recidivism average in the low 20%s, compared to Iowa’s rate in the 30%s and the national average of 67.8%. Moving from Jail and Prison Ministry only, to incorporating the practices of Restorative Justice has been a blessing.”

Lang gives a couple of real-world examples from his own personal experience of restorative justice in action, emphasizing the essential role faith and God’s grace plays in successes. He is also candid about the fact that not all participants reach positive outcomes. 

“Restorative Justice is not a program – it is a way of life, a new way to look at the present situation and know that healing and restoration can take place in human lives – even in the darkest places,” he wrote. “Our ministry is not perfect.  We continue to take steps forward and steps backward.  We are deeply saddened when a man or woman with whom we work relapses, or worse, dies from a drug overdose.  I have lost four friends to drug overdoses. We continually seek the help of the Holy Spirit and have been blessed in many ways.” 

More on the International Diaconate Centre and information on accessing the magazine can be found at http://diaconia-idc.org. To learn more about Catholic Charities Jail & Prison Ministry, visit www.catholiccharitiesdubuque.org.