Community Contact Information:
- Help the community to create a larger, more diverse jury pool.
- Strengthen a pre-existing interfaith relationship.
- Engage congregants in advocacy for a local legal aid organization.
The integrity of the criminal justice system, and the respect with which it is held by the citizenry, depends on many things - among them, the composition of our juries. Under-representation of the poor and of minorities has a negative impact on both the quality and fairness of the jury deliberation process and on the community's respect for jury verdicts. The problem of under-representation is nationwide and warrants concerned and constructive intervention.
The Jury Project, initiated by the local bar association as a way to directly respond to this issue, seeks to educate people about the importance of jury service and to enroll young people, poor people, and people of color who are not currently on the jury source list. Hundreds of people have been added to the lists as a result.
Based on the trust that has grown out of five years of partnership, the synagogue and a local AME church chose to work together to help increase the diversity of local juries.
Since its inception, the Jury Project has relied primarily on a small and dwindling number of volunteer attorneys. Volunteers from both congregations sit at recruiting tables in shopping malls, at the local community college, and in other places where there is a high volume of traffic, distributing information and encouraging people to let their names be added to the jury list.
The partnership between the two congregations and the bar association was kicked off at an open meeting that featured a talk by an African-American woman who had recently been released after serving 25 years in state prison. The verdict rendered by an all-white all-male jury was overturned on the grounds that evidence supporting her claim to innocence had not been provided to defense counsel.
Over 200 congregants from the synagogue volunteered to recruit potential jurors. This program received a Fain Award in 1999.