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Inside NCR

John goes to Rome; Teresa moves up

The pope’s recent words on prisons should resonate with a special poignancy in the United States, where prisons now hold almost a quarter of all those incarcerated throughout the world.

John Paul II’s words, however, appear to have had little effect. They certainly haven’t penetrated the presidential campaign rhetoric. Bush and Gore at last notice were still trying to out-tough each other on crime. The great American lockup continues unabated, driven by privatized prisons and rigid sentencing rules that increasingly bar judges from exercising discretion in leveling punishment.

Approximately 1.8 million people are behind bars in America. That figure represents a doubling of the prison population in the last 12 years. On any given day, 1.96 million children in the United States have a parent or close relative in jail or prison. One out of three young African-American males is under some form of criminal justice supervision.

The number of women inmates has tripled since 1985, and 78 percent of them are mothers.

We covered a lot of that ground a year ago in a July 2 cover story, “America Imprisoned.” But the magnitude of the problem convinced the NCR staff, in a meeting earlier this summer, that we should expand our coverage of prison issues in coming months. So expect to see our “Crime and Punishment” logo on stories in the future.

In this issue, Patricia Lefevere’s interviews with Catholic experts in prison ministry and the criminal justice system open a door onto realities that remain hidden from most of us.

John L. Allen Jr. has been with NCR since 1997, but the accumulated effect of his reporting and writing is far greater than one might expect from a three-year stint in a rumpled corner of our Kansas City newsroom. I know from phone calls and notes that a lot of you have been impressed with the quantity and quality of his work. You’re not alone. A lot of old hands around here are impressed, too, with the range of issues he has managed to cover and the depth and sophistication he has brought to our news pages. He’s done all that while writing a critical biography titled Cardinal Ratzinger due out this fall from Continuum.

In the coming years, he’ll have the chance to expand his own and the newspaper’s horizons in Rome, where he recently opened an NCR bureau.

He and his wife, Shannon, landed in Rome July 1 and, as you’ll see in this issue, he wasted no time getting to work.

For all his seriousness, you should know that Allen is a “Simpsons” aficionado. Who knows what got left behind to make room in the luggage for the collection of shows he has faithfully taped over the years.

Allen is shown here at the Bocca della verita (the “mouth of truth”). “Legend has it,” he writes, “that if I am a liar, the mouth would snap shut on my hand. What better endorsement of my reporting could we have?”

He’s told us he still has both hands. He may still have all of his digits, but you should also know he uses only two fingers to bang out those stories. Imagine how prolific he might be if he learned to type. He can be reached at jallen@natcath.org

Multi-talented Teresa Malcolm, who began in NCR’s production department in 1995 and has filled a variety of spots since, will take over the opinion editor position vacated by Allen. Malcolm (her TV preference, for the record, runs to “Star Trek” and she has rather eclectic tastes in movies) codesigned the Briefs pages for NCR and has compiled and edited that section for several years. Among other assignments, she reported on the youth segment of the pope’s visit to St. Louis; from Thailand, where she once served in the Peace Corps; and from Guatemala and Mexico for last year’s Destinations section.

As opinion editor, she’ll be handling columns, reviews, other opinion pieces and special sections on subjects such as ministry and higher education. She can be reached at tmalcolm@natcath.org

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is robertstw@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2000