The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
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.
While the announcement of these additional commutations is exciting and significant, it is important to remember that “clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.” To that end, President Obama addressed the NAACP National Convention yesterday in Philadelphia and shared his thoughts on how Americans can work together to bring more fairness into our criminal justice system while still keeping our communities safe. In addition to outlining the inherent problems, the President highlighted bipartisan ideas for reform and laid out his own ideas for how to make our justice system fairer, smarter and more cost-effective.
Tomorrow, the President will visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma where he will meet with inmates and law-enforcement officials. His visit is particularly notable because it will be the first time a President has visited a prison while in office. The news has excited criminal justice reform advocates who are optimistic that a bill will pass this Congress; support from the President could go a long way in urging members of Congress to support a reform package.
In fact, today the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be having the second day of hearings on criminal justice reform with the purpose of sharing successes at state level, hearing from a diverse panel of experts and broadening the conversation on criminal justice reform. Yesterday, the committee heard from lawmakers including Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), and today the committee will hear from advocates. The hearings are being held in the wake of the introduction of new criminal justice reform bills like the bipartisan Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective Justice Act (SAFE Justice Act).
As Reform Jews, we are encouraged by the progress being made in criminal justice reform because of our belief that criminals are human beings, capable of reshaping their lives. We are told in Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” We hope that reforms to the criminal justice system will enable inmates to turn from the wicked way and live as full citizens, reintegrated in society. In order to see that reality, we must continue to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform that looks at every part of our justice system. To that end, contact your Senators and urge them to support the Smarter Sentencing Act to ensure that sentencing laws are fair and proportionate.
For more information about the RAC’s work on criminal justice, check out our website.