As we approach the end of the 113th Congress, in which fewer bills have been passed than any previous congress, the lack of progress on crucial social justice issues can be disheartening. Fortunately, at least in the realm of criminal justice, there is still opportunity for positive change. Despite concerns that criminal justice reform was stalled, recent publications may give the topic the push it needs. Read more…
Leading up to my first day at the RAC, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the issues I wanted to work on. When our issue selection day finally came, I was thrilled to have the civil rights issue area in my portfolio. I had written my senior thesis about voting rights and been struggling with the criminal justice system ever since my binge-watching of The Wire. However, I never expected to spend so much time and energy engaging with the question of the death penalty. That same day, two half-brothers with mental disabilities in North Carolina, one of whom was on death row and the other of whom was serving a life sentence, were exonerated after over 30 years in prison. I was shocked and outraged. I could not even begin to imagine what it must be like to spend more than three decades in prison, waiting to be executed for a crime you did not commit. I soon found that this story is not uncommon. In fact, since 1973, over 140 people have been exonerated and freed from death row, and even more people have been executed despite serious doubts that they are innocent. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School studied 86 exonerations and found that the most common reason behind wrongful convictions were eyewitness error and government misconduct by both the police and the prosecution.
The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (H.R. 1447) is crucial legislation that will provide much-needed transparency in the criminal justice system. The law would require and facilitate the collection of information regarding the deaths of prisoners in custody, alleviating the environment of suspicion, concern and mistrust that exists today in many racial and ethnic minority communities from coast to coast.
In December, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The Senate must now introduce and pass a companion to H.R. 1447 before adjourning for the year so that the President can sign it into law.
Urge your Senators to introduce and pass this important legislation. Take action now!
Washington, D.C., August 20, 2014 - In response to the unrest in Ferguson, MO, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We, like so many across the U.S. and indeed the world, have watched the unrest in Ferguson, MO with heavy hearts and deep concern. Though the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer are ongoing and assessments about both the public’s reaction and law enforcement’s response are essential, what is already clear is that in Ferguson, the relationships between law enforcement, public officials and community members have been terribly damaged by mistrust. At the same time, persistent and widening economic inequality has also contributed to deep communal frustration.
Sadly, these circumstances are not unique to Ferguson. The challenges of racial divides and mistrust that afflict communities across the U.S. are a tragic emblem of how much work remains to be done to overcome divisions rooted in our nation’s history and the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities. As the gap between the rich and the poor widens in America, these economic inequalities are having a detrimental effect on communities where opportunities are shrinking every day.
Efforts to remedy these challenges require both short- and long-term commitments. Law enforcement must swiftly, fully and justly investigate the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death even while respecting and protecting the rights of community members who wish to assemble peacefully and express themselves. Communal relationships must be strengthened and we are encouraged that so many Reform congregations, including those in and around St. Louis, are engaged in such interfaith and inter-coalitional efforts. We are proud of our synagogue members and rabbis who have participated in, and supported efforts to keep peaceful, the protests that have taken place in Ferguson. As a Movement, we stand with them and will continue to advocate for policies and practices that address the scourge of racial profiling while promoting opportunity for all. We also continue to work to address those policies that have contributed to the growing economic inequality nationwide with the goal of ensuring that Americans in every community have the foundations they need and the opportunities they deserve to achieve the American Dream.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the White House event, Champions of Change: Re-Entry and Employment. The event honored 16 Americans doing extraordinary work in their local communities to facilitate employment opportunities for individuals formerly involved in the criminal justice system. Attendees heard from inspiring speakers and two panels featuring the “champions.” For advocates and federal officials, it was an opportunity to take a look at best practices and local success stories in this critical area. Read more…
Crime is prevalent everywhere in our world. When a person commits a crime, they are punished and, depending on its severity, are eventually brought back into society. While many crimes are perpetrated by adults, teenagers and even children – juveniles – can also commit offenses. A person is considered a juvenile delinquent if they are under the age of eighteen and commit an act that otherwise would be considered a crime if they were an adult. Many juveniles are placed in adult prisons and forced to endure sentences that are inappropriate to their age. The criminal justice system needs to realize that simply locking up a juvenile and throwing away the key is not the answer. We must find ways to keep our young people out of adult facilities and do whatever we can to rehabilitate them and keep them away from a life of crime.
The Sentencing Project compiled a study in 2011 that showed nearly 8,000 minors were in adult jails or prisons that year. In my opinion, this is simply unacceptable. If we work to rehabilitate our juveniles and do whatever it takes to keep them out of prisons and jails, it can lead to better futures for them. Read more…
“I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because whenever despair cries out, the Jew hopes.”
Though the United States represents only 5% of the world’s population, it holds 25% of the world’s prisoners. Over the past thirty years, the U.S. prison population has increased by 500%, bringing the number of prisoners in local, state, and federal prisons to nearly 2.3 million people. Read more…