The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
The criminal justice system in the United States is in urgent need of reform. At all steps, from initial sentencing to serving time, to release and re-entry, the justice system does not do enough to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them to become productive members of society. It also displays deep racial disparities.
Problems begin with sentencing. In response to rising crime rates and social unrest, the American public adopted an increasingly “tough-on-crime” attitude in the 1980s. At the state and federal levels, legislators passed laws imposing harsh mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes, most notably for many nonviolent drug offenses. In the following decades, the incarcerated population exploded, reaching over two million people by 2000. Today, the United States has the largest imprisoned population in the world by total number. Furthermore, half of all individuals in federal prisons are currently serving time for drug crimes.
Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have overwhelmingly affected people of color. Black men are disproportionately likely to be arrested, tried and incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they are no more likely to use or sell illicit drugs than white men. One in every three black males born today is expected to serve time in prison during his lifetime, as compared to one in every 17 white men.
Once released, prisoners face significant obstacles to re-enter society. Federal and state prisons often lack plentiful and well-organized re-entry programs in many federal and state prisons. Once someone leaves prison, they often lack vocational skills necessary to find jobs or find themselves discriminated against by employers who are afraid to hire former felons. With few economic opportunities, these individuals often return to criminal behavior, eventually landing back in prison and beginning the cycle again.
Comprehensive reforms are necessary at all stages of the criminal justice system in order to eliminate racial and ethnic bias, improve rehabilitation and re-entry preparation and ensure that the issuing of “justice” is done in a way that is truly just.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long supported a criminal justice system that it is humane in its treatment of prisoners and that seeks the rehabilitation of the convicted. Our Jewish texts that emphasize the importance of rehabilitation, rather than harsh punishment, for those who have done wrong. The prophet Ezekiel teaches the importance of human dignity, even when dealing with those who have transgressed, saying “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his life and live” (33:11). Ecclesiastes reminds us that human beings are all fallible and all have made mistakes, stating: “There is none on earth so righteous as to only do good and never sin” (7:20). Prisoners who have served their sentence are deserving of a second chance at a meaningful and productive life, and the criminal justice system and our society is stronger when it adequately prepares them to do so.
The movement for sentencing reform, or changes to laws that help determine punishments for convicted criminals, has gained momentum with the growing recognition of the tremendous human and economic costs of mass incarceration.
New sentencing reform bills were introduced in the 114th Congress. In the Senate, a bipartisan coalition comprised of Senators Grassley (IA) (Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee), Durbin (IL), Lee (UT), Schumer (NY), Scott (SC), Leahy (VT), Graham (SC), Whitehouse (RI), Cornyn (TX) and Booker (NJ) introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. This bill would have reduced mandatory minimums for several nonviolent offenses and given judges more discretion in overriding mandatory minimum laws in particular cases. Many of these reductions would have applied retroactively. The Senate bill would also put in place a system through which prisoners could earn points for participation in rehabilitation programs and then use those points to apply to finish their sentences in halfway houses or community centers, rather than in prison. Finally, this legislation sought to reform the juvenile justice system and ban solitary confinement for juveniles serving in federal prisons.
In the House of Representatives, a similar sentencing bill was introduced by Representatives Goodlatte (VA) (Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) and Conyers (MI) (Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee). This bill, the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, contained many of the same mandatory minimum reductions as the Senate bill, though it had fewer retroactive provisions. Another House bill, the Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act was introduced by Representative Chaffetz (UT) and included some of the additional rehabilitation and anti-recidivism measures described above.
All of these bills passed out of their respective Senate and House committees with bipartisan support, but did not receive a floor vote in the last Congress. Urge your Members of Congress to support comprehensive legislation to create fairer sentencing laws, improve prison practices and encourage successful reentry.
Read more about the criminal justice system and efforts to enact much-needed reforms.
The lists below contain only the names of Senators and Representatives who co-sponsored the following criminal justice reform bills in the last Congress: the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123), the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713) and the Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act (H.R. 759). If your Senator or Representative is not listed below, then they did not co-sponsor those bills.
House – H.R. 3713 or H.R. 759 Cosponsors
* = Original Cosponsor
|Rep. Bass, Karen [D-CA-37]||Rep. Lawrence, Brenda L. [D-MI-14]|
|Rep. Beatty, Joyce [D-OH-3]||Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]|
|Rep. Bishop, Mike [R-MI-8]*||Rep. Levin, Sander M. [D-MI-9]|
|Rep. Blum, Rod [R-IA-1]||Rep. Lewis, John [D-GA-5]|
|Rep. Brown, Corrine [D-FL-5]||Rep. Lieu, Ted [D-CA-33]|
|Rep. Chabot, Steve [R-OH-1]*||Rep. Loebsack, David [D-IA-2]|
|Rep. Chaffetz, Jason [R-UT-3]*||Rep. Love, Mia B. [R-UT-4]|
|Rep. Chu, Judy [D-CA-27]*||Rep. Maloney, Sean Patrick [D-NY-18]|
|Rep. Cicilline, David N. [D-RI-1]*||Rep. McDermott, Jim [D-WA-7]|
|Rep. Clay, Wm. Lacy [D-MO-1]||Rep. McGovern, James P. [D-MA-2]|
|Rep. Cohen, Steve [D-TN-9]*||Rep. McNerney, Jerry [D-CA-9]|
|Rep. Collins, Doug [R-GA-9]*||Rep. Messer, Luke [R-IN-6]|
|Rep. Conyers, John, Jr. [D-MI-13]*||Rep. Nadler, Jerrold [D-NY-10]*|
|Rep. Curbelo, Carlos [R-FL-26]||Rep. Napolitano, Grace F. [D-CA-32]|
|Rep. Davis, Danny K. [D-IL-7]||Rep. Olson, Pete [R-TX-22]|
|Rep. Davis, Susan A. [D-CA-53]||Rep. O'Rourke, Beto [D-TX-16]|
|Rep. DelBene, Suzan K. [D-WA-1]*||Rep. Payne, Donald M., Jr. [D-NJ-10]|
|Rep. Deutch, Theodore E. [D-FL-21]*||Rep. Peters, Scott H. [D-CA-52]|
|Rep. Doggett, Lloyd [D-TX-35]||Rep. Pierluisi, Pedro R. [D-PR-At Large]*|
|Rep. Duckworth, Tammy [D-IL-8]||Rep. Pingree, Chellie [D-ME-1]|
|Rep. Duncan, John J., Jr. [R-TN-2]||Rep. Polis, Jared [D-CO-2]|
|Rep. Ellison, Keith [D-MN-5]||Rep. Quigley, Mike [D-IL-5]|
|Rep. Emmer, Tom [R-MN-6]||Rep. Richmond, Cedric L. [D-LA-2]*|
|Rep. Farenthold, Blake [R-TX-27]||Rep. Rooney, Thomas J. [R-FL-17]*|
|Rep. Foster, Bill [D-IL-11]||Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [R-FL-27]|
|Rep. Fudge, Marcia L. [D-OH-11]||Rep. Rush, Bobby L. [D-IL-1]|
|Rep. Gabbard, Tulsi [D-HI-2]||Rep. Russell, Steve [R-OK-5]|
|Rep. Garrett, Scott [R-NJ-5]||Rep. Ryan, Tim [D-OH-13]|
|Rep. Gowdy, Trey [R-SC-4]*||Rep. Schakowsky, Janice D. [D-IL-9]|
|Rep. Green, Al [D-TX-9]||Rep. Scott, David [D-GA-13]|
|Rep. Green, Gene [D-TX-29]||Rep. Sensenbrenner, F. James, Jr. [R-WI-5]|
|Rep. Gutierrez, Luis V. [D-IL-4]||Rep. Serrano, Jose E. [D-NY-15]|
|Rep. Hanna, Richard L. [R-NY-22]||Rep. Sherman, Brad [D-CA-30]|
|Rep. Higgins, Brian [D-NY-26]||Rep. Slaughter, Louise McIntosh [D-NY-25]|
|Rep. Honda, Michael M. [D-CA-17]||Rep. Takai, Mark [D-HI-1]|
|Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18]*||Rep. Takano, Mark [D-CA-41]|
|Rep. Jeffries, Hakeem S. [D-NY-8]*||Rep. Trott, David A. [R-MI-11]*|
|Rep. Jenkins, Lynn [R-KS-2]||Rep. Vargas, Juan [D-CA-51]|
|Rep. Johnson, Eddie Bernice [D-TX-30]||Rep. Velazquez, Nydia M. [D-NY-7]|
|Rep. Kaptur, Marcy [D-OH-9]||Rep. Walters, Mimi [R-CA-45]*|
|Rep. Kildee, Daniel T. [D-MI-5]||Rep. Welch, Peter [D-VT-At Large]|
|Rep. Kline, John [R-MN-2]||Rep. Wilson, Frederica S. [D-FL-24]|
|Rep. Labrador, Raul R. [R-ID-1]*||Rep. Young, David [R-IA-3]|
|Rep. Larsen, Rick [D-WA-2]|
Senate – S. 2123 Cosponsors
* = Original Cosponsor
|Sen. Bennet, Michael F. [D-CO]||Sen. Kirk, Mark Steven [R-IL]|
|Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]||Sen. Klobuchar, Amy [D-MN]|
|Sen. Blunt, Roy [R-MO]||Sen. Leahy, Patrick J. [D-VT]*|
|Sen. Booker, Cory A. [D-NJ]*||Sen. Lee, Mike [R-UT]*|
|Sen. Brown, Sherrod [D-OH]||Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]|
|Sen. Burr, Richard [R-NC]||Sen. Mikulski, Barbara A. [D-MD]|
|Sen. Casey, Robert P., Jr. [D-PA]||Sen. Moran, Jerry [R-KS]|
|Sen. Coons, Christopher A. [D-DE]||Sen. Murray, Patty [D-WA]|
|Sen. Cornyn, John [R-TX]*||Sen. Nelson, Bill [D-FL]|
|Sen. Daines, Steve [R-MT]||Sen. Paul, Rand [R-KY]|
|Sen. Durbin, Richard [D-IL]*||Sen. Portman, Rob [R-OH]|
|Sen. Ernst, Joni [R-IA]||Sen. Roberts, Pat [R-KS]|
|Sen. Feinstein, Dianne [D-CA]||Sen. Schumer, Charles E. [D-NY]*|
|Sen. Flake, Jeff [R-AZ]||Sen. Scott, Tim [R-SC]*|
|Sen. Franken, Al [D-MN]||Sen. Tillis, Thom [R-NC]|
|Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]||Sen. Warner, Mark R. [D-VA]|
|Sen. Graham, Lindsey [R-SC]*||Sen. Whitehouse, Sheldon [D-RI]*|
|Sen. Heller, Dean [R-NV]|
|Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA]|