Criminal Justice Reform

Description

It is the obligation of government to ensure that no one is unjustly accused, convicted, or punished. There is growing evidence that race and poverty play a role in determining who gets arrested, who gets a fair trial, and how those convicted are sentenced. The Torah commands “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” or “Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deuterononmy 16:20). The sages explained that the word tzedek is repeated not only for emphasis but also to teach us that we must be just in our pursuit of justice, that our means must be as just as our ends.

Why Should Jews Care?

Maimonides lists five transgressions for which people do not repent. One of them is mistakenly suspecting an innocent person of doing wrong. One will justify his suspicion by saying, “I haven't sinned. What did I do to harm that person?” He doesn't realize that he commits a sin by considering an innocent person a transgressor (Hilchot T'shuvah 4:3). The racial bias in the criminal justice system means that, all too often, people of color face a presumption of guilt for crimes they did not commit.

“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his life and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). In the Jewish tradition, the sanctity of all human life is a primary value. Our definitive goal should be rehabilitation—not punishment. Our criminal justice system should effectively assess individuals who violate the law and ultimately prepare them to reenter society.

“You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or defer to a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness” (Leviticus 19:15). As we are told, we must not favor certain people in the justice system. We want to work together for a criminal justice system that acts from righteousness for the benefit of all.

Take Action

Urge Congress to enact policing reforms

George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Dreasjon “Sean” Reed are just some of the latest victims of the nation’s long history of brutality against People of Color, and particularly Black men. As peaceful protests continue across the United States, we see an all-too-familiar anger, frustration, and pain. Changes to federal laws are vital to ensure that law enforcement training, use of force policies, and data collection address historic and systemic racial injustices.

Urge your members of Congress to support comprehensive policing reforms in the 117th Congress.

Related Issues

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Juvenile Justice

Many issues remain within our society and the juvenile justice system which have created racial disparities and are contributing to the "school-to-prison-pipeline."

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Prisoner's hands and arms coming through jail cell bars

Reentry

Despite paying their debt to society, a criminal record brings with it many collateral consequences beyond the sentence already served that creates many barriers for individuals trying to rebuild their lives.

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Female hands dressed in orange holding onto prison bars

Sentencing

For decades, the Union for Reform Judaism has opposed mandatory minimums for first-time drug offenders, opposed the death penalty, and called for rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration.

What's New

From Immigration to Parole Reform, RAC State Projects Secure Racially Just Policies

July 6, 2021
In April, when the Reform movement launched its Racial Justice Campaign, Reform leaders were already advocating for racially just policies across several states. Each of the eight RAC state projects from California to New Jersey has launched its own legislative campaign focused on racial justice. Reform leaders in four of these states have succeeded in securing crucial legislation that will advance racial justice or defeating harmful legislation alongside diverse coalition partners.

Related Press Releases

Reform Jewish Leader Responds to Guilty Verdict in George Floyd, Jr. Murder Trial

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 20, 2021 WASHINGTON – In response to the jury’s guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Jr., Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of

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Reform Judaism's Resolutions on Criminal Justice Reform

Learn more about the position of the Reform Movement on these key issues, and read the formal resolutions by URJ and CCAR.

View URJ Resolution View Resolutions From Our Partners

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Contact our Legislative Assistants

For more information on this issue, contact Israel Harris.

What our Partners are Doing