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.