The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
On January 19, Reform rabbis and congregations from around the country will be coming together for a national call-in day to the U.S. Senate in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123).
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, also known as SRCA, is a bipartisan, comprehensive reform bill that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, grant judges increased discretion in setting sentences for low-level offenders, make it easier for rehabilitated prisoners to finish their sentences in halfway houses or in home confinement and limit juvenile solitary confinement and life without parole in the federal system.
If passed by Congress and signed into law, S. 2123 would be the most significant piece of criminal justice reform legislation in a generation. The United States Sentencing Commission estimates that tens of thousands of current and future mainly low-level drug offenders would see their sentences reduced from the harsh mandatory minimum requirements that were put in place in the past three decades. The passage of SRCA could also serve as a signal to the states, where the vast majority of incarcerated people are held, that smart-on-crime reforms can effectively reduce mass incarceration and promote justice without sacrificing public safety.
And, unlike many issues in Congress, sentencing reform has a real chance to move. SRCA was voted successfully out of committee in October by a vote of 15-5 with the support of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Since then, the list of cosponsors of the bill has grown rapidly as Democrats and Republicans have recognized the importance of reforming our nation’s broken criminal justice system.
Still, obstacles remain to get the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act on the schedule for a full Senate vote. Most significantly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the New York Times in December that he had not yet decided whether to bring the legislation to the floor. There are also concerns that it will become more difficult to assemble a broad coalition in favor of criminal justice reform as the presidential election nears.
Now more than ever, Congress needs to hear the voices of Reform Jews in support of criminal justice reform. We must tell our Senators that we believe criminal justice reform is an ethical and moral imperative rooted in the Jewish tradition’s teaching that the criminal is a person deserving of mercy, redemption and rehabilitation. As we learn in Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his life and live.” The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would take necessary first steps to ensure that low-level offenders are given a second chance.