Category Archives: Government Affairs

Criminal Justice Reform Principles

  • With just 4.4% of the world’s population, the U.S. houses roughly 25% of the world’s prisoners--over 2.2 million individuals. We house 30% of the world's population of incarcerated women.  
  • 1 in 15 black men and 1 in 36 Latino men is incarcerated, compared with 1 in 106 white men.  
  • Over 2.7 million children have at least one parent in prison.  
  • Nearly half of all state prisoners are nonviolent offenders and 16% are drug offenders.  
  • Despite similar levels of usage, 2/3 of drug offenders are black and Latino—that’s roughly 10X the rate of white users.  
  • In Massachusetts, our recidivism rate is close to 40%. 

It is imperative for our society to build a criminal justice infrastructure that balances the needs of public safety, the rights of victims, and also establishes a meaningful rehabilitative system to ensure that people have the opportunity to succeed after incarceration.  The inequities faced by people of color in the justice system constitute one of the most pressing civil rights crises of our time. Racial disparities are a pernicious and, ultimately, unacceptable reality of our criminal justice system. In particular, progressive approaches to nonviolent offenders are an essential means towards reducing the devastating impact that incarceration and its aftermath has on our communities.  America can and must do better, and the organized Jewish community can play an indispensable role, consonant with our tradition, in moving this agenda forward. Widespread, transformative change will require a groundswell of energy at the state and local levels, the kind of work to which local community relations organizations are ideally suited.  

WHY NOW? 

The Jewish community has a distinguished track record dating back to the early 1930s in fighting for racial equality and civil rights throughout the United States. Such fights included advancing racial equity in education, ending segregation, and, in more recent years, ensuring enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The civil rights movement of the 1960s transformed America and advanced the principle of equality for all under the law.  

We recognize that our community’s presence in these fights has not been as felt in the following decades. There remains much work to be done, which calls for the involvement of the community at large. Beginning in the 1970s the U.S. prison population grew dramatically and, along with the rate of incarceration, this phenomenon is referred to as mass incarceration. Studies have shown that mass incarceration is a significant contributing factor to poverty, income inequality, and family instability. Mass incarceration compounded with the erosion of the Voting Rights Act, and prevalence of institutional bias perpetuate structural inequality that keeps low-income and communities of color at a disadvantage. 

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Supports: 

  • Policies that reduce the rates of incarceration and recidivism.  
  • Policies that address and confront the racial disparities in our criminal justice system; 
  • The reform of mandatory minimum sentences to reduce injustice in its effects and application; 
  • Policies that challenge our state’s unconscionably high recidivism rate, including but not limited to increasing access to pre-incarceration diversionary paths, re-entry programs, mental health and substance abuse services, and job-training and stabilization supports for individuals upon release; 
  • Work that addresses the communal impacts of high incarceration rates, particularly on family members of those incarcerated; 
  • Efforts that reform our juvenile justice system to reduce the school to prison pipeline. 
  • Actions to address the economic impact of fines and fees associated with all aspects of the criminal justice system, from pre-trail bail reform to fees associated with probation and parole; 
  • Outreach to local groups for support and wisdom, coalition building, particularly with those most directly affected by the criminal justice system. 

Caring for Elders and Adults with Disabilities

Multiple factors influenced the decision to focus on elders and people with disabilities. Among the most common reasons are:

  • The Jewish population is older than the national average;
  • Our Jewish values to care for the vulnerable populations;
  • Increased calls from caregivers and those needing services, including need for emergency food and shelter;
  • This population is experiencing significant loss of pension and savings;
  • The impact that supports for elders and adults with disabilities have on those receiving care and their caregivers, most often adult children;
  • The crisis in state funding for elder and disability services;
  • Information indicating that many elders and individuals with disabilities are living below the poverty level and financial security standards;
  • The existence of advocates and coalitions supporting additional resources and creative policy for these populations; and,
  • The need to prevent short-sighted policy made during crisis.

We are working with partners throughout the Jewish community and in the elder and disability advocacy arenas. We believe our advocacy efforts are best directed toward helping elders and people with disabilities to live as independently as possible and with dignity, by seeking resources and creative policy change and by preventing further reduction of program funding and establishment of crisis-time policies.

Proposed Public Policy Priority 2011-2012 Legislative Session Economic Recovery

The country is recovering from the worst and longest recession since the 1930s. States have seen a significant reduction in tax receipts and have had to make drastic cuts to make up for the lost revenue. The Federal government has implemented a number of programs to aid states, but many have been delayed, reduced, or have already been expended.

Recognizing state and federal government’s role in economic recovery, the Public Policy Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston proposes to support legislative policies that lead to economic recovery.

The Jewish Federations of North America have also identified “Responding to the Economic Crisis” as one of their major priorities (see JFNA 2010 Public Policy Priorities at http://www.jewishfederations.org/local_includes/downloads/34344.pdf). Like JCRC, they seek to ensure that the social service network has the necessary resources to meet the needs of the most vulnerable during times of economic hardship, including housing, food, and employment training.  Further, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ (JCPA) has passed multiple anti-poverty resolutions aimed at personal economic recovery, such as: Poverty and Welfare Reform; Living Wage; Budget and Tax Policy; Housing, Hunger and Homelessness; Affordable Housing; Predatory Lending; Strengthening the Assets of Low Income Households; Alleviating Hunger and Food Insufficiency; Reform of Federal Poverty Measure; and Usury. (See JCPA Policy Compendium at www.jewishpublicaffairs.org).

Strengthening national, state and individual economies will take time, development of new policies, and job generation and training. As such, as a public policy priority for 2011, the Public Policy Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston proposes:

To support policies that lead to personal economic recovery and security, including safety-net services, sustainable housing, and job expansion, training, and placement services.

To support state and national economic recovery in order to improve personal and family well-being and financial stability.

Racial Justice Priorities

Now is a moment for decisive action from the Jewish community on police reform. In response to calls from our allies in the Black community, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Council President Kim Janey, City Councilor Andrea Campbell, and members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus, JCRC endorsed five points to create meaningful reform. We will continue to engage with our partners at the federal and municipal levels on the other 5 points in the 10-point plan as well as several other interrelated issues. 

We stand with our partners in taking action to:
  1. To Pass Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution condemning police brutality, racial profiling, and the excessive use of force
  2.  Resolve to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a statewide Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system that certifies police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. (H2146 by Rep. Holmes and Vieira)
  3. Pass H2292 by Rep. Holmes that establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies, establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers.
  4. Pass H1440 by Rep. Holmes that Establishes a commission to study how the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.
  5. Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences, require independent investigation of officer-related deaths, and require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department. (Bill to be filed by Rep Liz Miranda soon)

JCRC Statement on Voting and Elections in a Pandemic

Embedded in JCRC’s mission is the obligation to promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic and just. In 2019 JCRC of Greater Boston adopted principles to defend democracy, including the support of policies that (1) Identify and remove barriers to and increase voter registration and voter turnout and (2) Ensure the security and sustainability of our election system infrastructure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inadequacies of the American voting system and exacerbated long-standing suppressive tactics in jurisdictions across the country to ensure this fundamental right. Earlier this month, Wisconsin voters and poll workers were forced to choose between their health and their fundamental right to vote. Over a century ago, the United States Supreme Court held in Yick Wo v. Hopkins that the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

Time is running out for our federal, state and local governments to act now to ensure that the rights and health of voters and pollworkers are protected in the upcoming elections and that the necessary robust infrastructure is supported and funded to increase participation. The Covid-19 pandemic demands a response to meet those needs.

JCRC supports federal, state and local policies that:

  • Expand absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserve in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expand early voting options.

In addition, JCRC calls for immediate federal action and funding for needed support of state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

MA Rabbis Letter in Support of the Safe Communities Act

January 24th, 2020

Senator Michael O. Moore
Chairman, Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
State House, Room 109-B
Boston, MA 02113

Representative Harold P. Naughton
Chairman, Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
State House, Room 167
Boston, MA 02113

Honorable Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of the Safe Communities Act (S.1401 and H.3573). We, the undersigned rabbis, urge your support of this vital legislation. This comprehensive bill would end state and local participation in federal immigration enforcement and ensure the wise use of our public resources.

Our communities have become increasingly concerned by the fear we are hearing from our immigrant neighbors and organizational partners. We have heard our neighbors, coworkers, and friends tell us that, amidst the heightened, hateful rhetoric and cruel federal policies, they are afraid to drive, to send their kids to school, to seek healthcare, to stay enrolled in necessary service programs. Even food pantries have seen a drop-off in clients. There is deep fear that any encounter with authorities, any service that requires a name and i.d., will lead to deportation by ICE.  Fear injures, it stunts growth and it isolates. As people of faith, as residents of Massachusetts, as Americans, and as humans, we are not in the business of seeding fear.

Many in our Jewish community have benefited from the blessings of life in America after our parents and grandparents immigrated here in the early 20th Century fleeing persecution. Whether they came with or without documentation, our families moved through this country freely, figuring out how to make lives for themselves and their children out of the ashes of persecution. In so doing, they contributed a great deal of labor, love and creativity to this country.

Immigrants of all stripes, from all countries, in all times, deserve the same chance. For at our core, we are all human beings. And at the very least, we all deserve to live free from fear. As Jews, the commandment we see more than any other in our holy texts is to love and care for the stranger, for wanderers who face immense challenges – to stand in solidarity and make it clear to our neighbors, our loved ones, that they are not alone.

And it is in that spirit we support S. 1401 and H.3573. Our tax dollars should in no way be put toward any kind of local law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. We must take action to ensure that our local police and courts are not involved in civil deportations,; and we must take action to guarantee basic rights for immigrants who are detained in our jails or lockups

Policies of local/State and Federal enforcement collaboration deepen distrust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. When police and sheriffs become immigration agents, victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of domestic violence, do not come forward to cooperate with law enforcement. The New York Times reported a sharp downturn in reports of sexual assault and domestic violence among Latinos throughout the country since the presidential election, attributed to fears of deportation. It is unacceptable that people in imminent danger do not feel able to reach out for the support they need.

We support the recent adoption of the Boston Trust Act and other such local provisions which protect our communities, but a patchwork of inconsistent local ordinances and policies is not enough. The Safe Communities Act is based on tried and true community policing policies that cultivate community confidence in law enforcement. Massachusetts needs to send a powerful message to immigrant state residents that our state and local government serves and protects all law-abiding state residents, regardless of their immigration status. We all deserve a chance to contribute to this country and be free from fear.

I urge you to report this bill favorably out of committee for consideration by the full state legislature.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Neal Gold, President, Massachusetts Board of Rabbis
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum - Congregation Beth Elohim, Acton
Rabbi Elaine Zecher – Temple Israel, Boston

Rabbi Bernard Mehlman - Temple Israel, Boston
Rabbi Jen Gubitz - Temple Israel, Boston
Rabbi Suzie Jacobson - Temple Israel, Boston
Rabbi Ronne Friedman - Temple Israel, Boston
Rabbi Victor Reinstein - Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue, Boston
Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman – Boston
Rabbi Becky Silverstein – Boston
Rabbi Jim Morgan, Hebrew Senior Life, Boston
Rabbi Andrew Vogel - Temple Sinai, Brookline
Rabbi Daniel Schaeffer - Temple Ohabei Shalom, Brookline
Rabbi Shira Shazeer, Metrowest Jewish Day School, Framingham
Rabbi David Lerner – Temple Emunah, Lexington
Rabbi Julie Bressler – Temple Beth Shalom, Needham
Rabbi Shahar Colt – Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Newton
Rabbi Daniel Berman - Temple Reyim, Newton
Rabbi Michael Shire, Phd. - Hebrew College, Newton
Rabbi Laura Abrasely - Temple Shalom, Newton
Rabbi Ora Weiss- Newton, MA
Rabbi Lev Friedman, Newton, MA
Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler - Temple Sinai, Sharon
Rabbi David Jaffe - Kirva Institute, Sharon
Rabbi Randy Kafka -Temple Kol Tikvah, Sharon
Rabbi Eliana Jacobowitz – Temple B’nai Brith, Somerville
Rabbi Seth Wax – Williamstown

Double your impact: Loud and Clear on Beacon Hill

Your gift to JCRC ensures that the Jewish community’s voice is heard loud and clear as we make an impact on Beacon Hill. We are the organization that builds broad coalitions, advocates for social justice, and protects the social safety net by advocating for a compassionate and forward-thinking state budget.

With increased gun violence, unjust incarceration and high rates of recidivism, and rising hate crimes, JCRC has been working closely with our allies to lobby the Massachusetts state legislature and the Governor to take action on our community values and priorities.

Through our advocacy, we’ve taken steps to protect democracy by passing and signing into law the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Bill, and upholding justice by advocating for passage of the comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill. And we’ve advocated with our partners for successful passage of the Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) Bill, which allows loved ones to remove weapons temporarily from people who pose a risk to themselves and others. We also worked closely with our partners to support the ballot initiative to protect human rights for transgender individuals.

This year, in a time of limited resources and in some cases declining budgets, JCRC also has secured government funding for the community and our partners in excess of our organizational budget.

We have achieved an unprecedented level of success in advancing the priorities of our community in the 2019 state budget, securing a total of $3,842,000 in state funding for a broad range of human services. More than $2 million of this funding will support the work of our partner agencies to create pathways to economic opportunity for disadvantaged residents (including job training for immigrants), enable elderly individuals and families to remain in their homes, and ensure safety for our most vulnerable.

When you support JCRC, you’re not only advancing the Jewish community’s shared values, but also ensuring that we can protect our neighbors and increasingly vulnerable populations across MA. Please partner with us to make an even greater impact in the year to come!

Thank you for helping us go from strength to strength,

Margie Ross Decter
Chair, JCRC Public Policy Committee

A Step Forward for Inclusion

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

As you may recall, last July marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

Allow me to borrow the words of Elana Margolis, Associate Director at JCRC, from a blog post she authored to commemorate that anniversary:

“I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.”

By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.

At JCRC, we advocate for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities. We  join with so many wonderful organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston,– working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.

Since I am in a borrowing mood, I’ll share the words of Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director, from one of his recent weekly blog posts:

“For JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.”

This commitment was clearly visible earlier this month when JCRC worked with our partners and the Massachusetts State Senate to pass two bills aimed at removing barriers for people with disabilities. Senate Bills 1323 and 2142, passed on March 3rd, expand the range of housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1323, which we are working to ensure is approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, brings Massachusetts and federal regulations into alignment — creating more accessible housing units and improving access to employee-only areas in the workplace. Thank you to our partners on this initiative - the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers, the MS Society, Disability Policy Consortium and Easter Seals.

Senate Bill 2142 would require the state's Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit, with the intent to hire, qualified applicants with disabilities for employment in its office. In addition, the bill requires that all state employees involved in hiring decisions be trained and educated to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We are thrilled that the Senate also passed these additional bills that positively impact people living with disabilities:

  • Senate Bill 2140, an Act Eliminating Archaic Language Pertaining to Individuals with Disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Senate Bill 2413, an Act Eliminating Health Disparities in the Commonwealth.
  • Senate Bill 2141, An Act Updating Terminology and Investigative Practices Related to the Protection of Persons with a Disability.

We are grateful for the leadership of Senator James Timilty, Senator Barbara L’Italien and Chair of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka.  Our efforts now turn to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure swift action to pass these bills.

The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition and JCRC will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.

 

Senate Passes Legislations Extending Charitable IRA Rollover Provisions

It’s not too late to make a gift to JCRC - and it’s not too late to make a distribution from your IRA if you are 70.5 years old or over.

Congress has just reinstated the opportunity to make tax-free rollover gifts from IRAs to charity.

By contributing an IRA Charitable Rollover Gift to JCRC, the IRS allows you to give up to $100,000 this calendar year from your individual IRA account.

Your contribution can satisfy your entire required minimum distribution -- and it's tax-free. Even though the money is coming from your IRA, it is excluded from your taxable income!

Also beneficial: by not having to declare the distributions, the IRA funds are kept from being taxed, and you can also avoid other unfavorable effects that could result from increasing one’s adjusted gross income, such as the taxation of social security benefits or a reduction in personal exemptions and allowable itemized deductions.

To qualify for the tax-free option:

  • You must be 70 ½ years old or older.
  • The transfer from your IRA must go directly from your IRA to JCRC.
  • Married couples can each donate $100,000 from their individual IRA accounts.
  •  The gift must be completed by December 31, 2015.
  • The gift must be an outright gift.

Please note that transfers of IRA gifts to donor advised funds, supporting organizations, charitable gift annuities, or charitable remainder trusts do not qualify. The gift is not eligible for an additional charitable income tax deduction.

For more details on this option, please call JCRC 617-457-8600.
We hope you'll take advantage of the Charitable IRA Rollover and help us by visiting www.jcrcboston.org.