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Criminal Justice

It’s that time of year! The newest class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants arrived at the RAC two weeks ago, and jumped right into the Washington, D.C.

This weekend marks one year since Michael Brown was shot and killed in the street by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. As we take this moment to reflect on the past year, I am reminded of the Jewish tradition’s unique way of coping with death, to help mourners gradually reenter into normal life after the death of a loved one.

In a video announcement on Monday, President Obama announced that he is granting clemency to 46 men and women. Because of much-needed reforms to sentencing laws, if convicted of the exact same crime today, nearly all of these individuals would have already served their full sentences and reintegrated into society. This announcement comes only a few months after the President commuted the sentences of 22 other individuals in April. In total, the President has issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority have which have gone to non-violent drug offenders.

The Supreme Court term that just came to an end was extremely significant, and not just because of the historic healthcare and marriage equality rulings. Throughout the term, we saw a number of important criminal justice cases argued and decided, and though some of them did not go the way we would have hoped, important questions were raised about the way that “justice” is carried out in our criminal justice system.

By Sophie Ranen

As an intern at The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I have had the opportunity to learn about a pressing racial justice issue: solitary confinement.

Currently, the United States holds at least 80,000 prisoners in isolation, more than any other country in the world. Prisoners in solitary confinement are held alone, or with another person, in a small cell for 22-24 hours a day and deprived of human contact, natural sunlight, and productive activities for months, years, or even decades. Isolation is used both as punishment for behavior in prison as well as gang management. For the former, prisoners receive a sentence for a specified time-period while prisoners with assumed gang affiliation often receive indefinite sentences. Additionally, solitary confinement is often used as punishment for non-violent infractions of prison discipline such as talking back, having too many postage stamps, wearing the wrong sweatshirt, or cheering too loudly for the Patriots during the Super Bowl.

According to The Guardian’s investigation, the deaths of Isiah Hampton, 19, in New York City, and Quandavier Hicks, 22, in Cincinnati on Wednesday, brought the number of people killed by police in the United States in 2015 to 500. The total number includes both unarmed victims and encounters when responding violent altercations. Through a project called The Counted, The Guardian is using reports and crowd-sourcing to keep track of American deaths at the hands of law enforcement. The Counted keeps track of data such as the names, races, ages and other information about those who have died.

It is an exciting time for criminal justice reform advocates across the country. Legislators, activists and citizens from across the political spectrum are coming together to make our nation’s justice system more just. This collaboration can be seen in the Bipartisan Summit that took place this past spring hosted by Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Donna Brazile and Pat Nolan. In addition, the new bipartisan Coalition for Public Safety brings together the Koch Brothers, the ACLU, the Center for American Progress and others and is working across the political spectrum to bring about comprehensive criminal justice reform.

By Lee Winkelman Reform CA is fighting to end racial profiling in California and we need your help now. My son Henry is 11 years old.  When he starts to drive in a few years, I won’t worry that he will be pulled over because of the color of his skin. I am reassured that if Henry is in trouble, a police officer is someone he can turn to when he needs help.

On Wednesday, Nebraska became the nineteenth state to abolish the death penalty. The vote made Nebraska the first state in two years to formally abolish capital punishment. The decision comes at a time when support for the death penalty is decreasing and the number of executions is declining. In fact, polls released last month by Pew Research Center and CBS News show that public support for the death penalty has declined to almost historic lows. Only 56% of Americans reported supporting the death penalty—the lowest level of support ever recorded by the CBS News poll and near the lowest level reported by Pew in the last 40 years. And, the level of support for capital punishment has been falling consistently for two decades.

The topics of criminal justice reform and community-police relations have been at the top of the news cycle for months. In fact, just yesterday the President traveled to Camden, New Jersey and visited with local law enforcement and met with young people in the Camden community to hear directly about the progress the revamped police force has made in building trust between law enforcement and the people of Camden. Through trips such as this one, and his establishment of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to improve communities and police departments across the country and respond to the series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police.