Last Thursday, some seventy members of JCRC’s Council gathered in Brookline for our Fall meeting. These leaders, representing most of our 42 member organizations and the representatives of our community at-large, were joined by two distinguished guest speakers: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, and ACLU of Massachusetts Racial Justice Program Director, the Rev. Rahsaan Hall.
We learned about and grappled with the pressing challenges of criminal justice reform and racial justice in America, first with our guests, and then in small groups of Council members. Together we discussed a broad range of matters, including proposals to: repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders; reform prison education and workforce training; and improve the efficacy of the probation and parole systems. On a broader level, we explored strategies for addressing racial disparities throughout the justice system.
As Massachusetts continues a bipartisan cross-governmental review of criminal justice, we wanted to explore how we might add unique value as a Jewish community in addressing these issues.
When JCRC is at our best, before we take on broad issues as the representative voice of the organized Jewish community, we engage our diverse network through the Council to test, explore, to define our core priorities and articulate the values that should inform our public voice. When we do this well, even if taking on controversial issues, we can be confident that our voice is representative and accurately reflects our network.
Our goal for this Council meeting was not to adopt a new policy or reach a definitive conclusion, but rather to elicit a wide range of perspectives from our entire network, and inform the work of our Public Policy Committee. In the months ahead, the Committee will work to recommend policies and principles for consideration by the Council, and to guide our advocacy in the years to come.
From this informative evening, several things became very clear. The deep concern about mass incarceration, high rates of recidivism and racial disparities in our criminal justice system runs very deep across our Council. These issues are of critical importance, affecting many in our Commonwealth, including our own families and communities. Knowing exactly which action by us will have the most impact isn’t clear yet, and we have important and difficult decisions ahead. Of course, there are Jewish values that will influence our decision, and data that will guide our research. Our voice is being sought, and our members want a response.
Our commitment to justice and equality in our nation remains steadfast, so I’m looking forward to the work ahead of us. I am proud that our leaders are committed to doing the work that bridges the diversity in our community and enables us to act as one. The challenges of doing so are always worth embracing.