RAC-OH Testifies in Front of State Senate on Criminal Justice Reform

May 17, 2019

On May 15, Rabbi Rick Kellner, faith leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington, OH and Core Team Member of the Ohio Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, had the opportunity to testify in front of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a criminal justice reform bill that Ohio’s Reform Jews are deeply involved in. Senate Bill 3 aims to make low level drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

As it stands, Ohio is locking up those struggling with addiction, at great cost to the state and to human dignity. Felony convictions follow these individuals for life, making it harder for them to recover and find employment and housing. Moreover, the burden can be particularly difficult on parents, who struggle to regain custody and support their children. With a misdemeanor conviction, individuals would not go to prison and instead could receive drug treatment and the chance to turn their life around.

“Our Jewish text and tradition tell of the challenging story of our people’s slavery in Egypt,” Rabbi Kellner testified. “Every Spring on the holiday of Passover, Jews mark our exodus from slavery. The word addiction comes from the Latin root “to give oneself over”. Those who are addicted to drugs become slaves to their addiction. Society celebrates and reveres those who successfully emerge, and when we hear that someone has been sober for 5 years, we cheer. Coming out of the personal Egypt is the story of every recovering addict.”

While Issue 1, the ballot amendment RAC-OH took on for 2019, did not pass in the polls, our work was important in raising up the intersecting issues of mass incarceration and drug addiction. It became a major conversation across the state, and the legislature is now compelled to make changes. We will continue to fight for funding to support recovery and the opportunity for individuals to begin their life anew. As the bill works its way through the Senate and House, there will be opportunities for Ohio’s Jewish community to act, including a Lobby Day in Columbus this Fall.

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