The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
As Reform Jews from across North America converge on Washington, D.C. for the Consultation on Conscience from April 30 to May 2, we will be learning about and acting to address the most pressing social justice issues our society is facing today. Among those is America’s broken criminal justice system, rife with racial disparities and strained by the high costs of mass incarceration.
At Consultation, we will learn from experts racial justice issues, including the criminal justice system. The Sunday evening plenary session, “Combatting the Blasphemy of Bigotry: Today's Struggle for Civil and Human Rights,” will take place at 7:00 PM eastern time and feature Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. On Monday at 3:00 PM NAACP President Cornell W. Brooks, Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice and Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black will join us for a session titled: “Act Justly, Love Mercy - A Conversation on Rights, Race and Justice.” Both of these sessions, along with all of our plenaries, will be streamed via Facebook Live.
On Tuesday, we will put what we have learned into action by asking our members of Congress to support criminal justice reform legislation. Over the past couple of years, a bipartisan coalition of legislators has come together to address deficiencies in our sentencing laws and corrections system. On the sentencing side, lawmakers are seeking to reduce harsh mandatory minimum laws for non-violent drug offenders. These laws require judges to sentence someone convicted of a crime at or above a certain length of time. In some cases, mandatory minimum laws have forced judges to sentence non-violent offenders to 15 years, 25 years or even life in prison. Under changes proposed during the 114th Congress, some mandatory minimums would be reduced and judges would be given more tools to sentence below a mandatory minimum if necessary.
Other reforms would have helped the federal corrections system truly live up to its name. Today, many formerly incarcerated people struggle to find jobs and stability once they leave prison and often return to criminal behavior. The corrections side of criminal justice reform focuses on providing incentives for inmates to complete reentry programs by allowing them to earn credits which they could use to serve the rest of their sentence in a halfway house or home confinement.
These reforms were included in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.2123), the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713) and the Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act (H.R. 759), all of which enjoyed bipartisan support in the 114th Congress. While key congressional leaders have expressed a desire to reintroduce this legislation in the 115th Congress, they have yet to do so. We will be asking members of Congress to support reintroducing comprehensive legislation to create fairer sentencing laws, improve prison practices and encourage successful reentry. You can access more detailed advocacy materials here.
Our work does not stop there, though. States are passing bipartisan legislation to reform the criminal justice system and local leaders are making much-needed changes as well. This work is critical, as a vast majority of America’s 2.3 million incarcerated people are held in state and local jails and prisons. Moreover, continued leadership from states on criminal justice reform could give federal officials more energy and impulse to take action.
Our Reform Jewish values emphasize human dignity, even when confronted with those who have transgressed. As the prophet Ezekiel said: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his life and live” (33:11). Together, we will translate those values into action to reform our criminal justice system at all levels. We welcome you to watch the livestream of our plenary sessions on April 30 and May 1 here and learn more about the Consultation on Conscience here.
Interested in the full Consultation on Conscience program schedule? View it here.