Criminal Justice Reform

Take action with JCJ

Rebuild an American justice system that is more fair, just, and compassionate

Join us as we mobilize Jewish communities and pro-democracy people of faith in support of criminal justice reform.

What’s the injustice?

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world — with people of color disproportionately serving time behind bars.

Since the mid-20th century, under the guise of the “War on Drugs,” American political leaders have waged a battle against people and communities of color. Though the U.S. had earlier outlawed other modes of restricting non-white people’s movement and freedoms — including slavery and convict leasing — the Nixon Administration built the foundations of a new carceral state by pushing mandatory sentencing laws and increasing the presence of drug enforcement agents in low-income neighborhoods.

These actions were taken under the pretense of responding to crime and making cities and neighborhoods safer. But a Nixon advisor eventually laid out the true underlying strategy: “By getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them.”

The impact of these policies — and the regime of drug enforcement and sentencing that took root and expanded during the 1980s and 1990s — reached into every dimension of American life, from schooling and welfare to employment and housing. Over time, enforcement disproportionately subjected Black and Latino communities to heavy consequences for drug possession, use, and other nonviolent behaviors.

Today, the U.S. prison population has ballooned from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to over 2.3 million people. The racial breakdown is undeniable: At the current pace of incarceration, one in three black male babies would end up in prison — and it would take whites 100 years to catch up to the number of Blacks behind bars. The Sentencing Project paints a stark portrait: “African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted… they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.”

What we believe

Every human being deserves fair and equal justice under the law.

Jewish law places a high premium on justice — but at the center of this ethic are the values of compassion, forgiveness, and the capacity to repent. We support efforts to build an American justice system that honors rehabilitation and creates pathways for acceptance and reintegration back into society. This includes legislation to address the legacies of slavery and inequality, eliminate mandatory minimums, reduce the U.S. prison population, and establish common-sense restorative justice programs across America.

At the federal level, we are engaged with our coalition partners in the fight to pass three pieces of transformative legislation:

  • The First Step Implementation Act would put the United States on track to abolish life without parole for children nationwide, giving people who were sentenced as children the chance to petition a judge for sentencing review after serving 20 years of their sentence.
  • The Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act would prohibit courts from increasing a defendant’s sentence based on acquitted conduct — a practice that allows federal judges to enhance defendants’ sentence based on conduct for which a jury acquitted them.
  • The EQUAL Act would eliminate the longstanding sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

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Connections: Jewish Sources

Forgive the iniquity of the people according to the greatness of Your compassion. And continue to forgive them as you have forgiven them since Egypt. — Numbers 14:19