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Urge Congress to Pass Comprehensive Sentencing Reform

Over the past 40 years, the American prison population has grown by 500%. Over two million Americans are currently incarcerated, and a disproportionate number are people of color. The explosion in the prison population has resulted in overcrowding, poor treatment of prisoners, and staggering costs for the public.

On October 4, 2017, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.1917) in the Senate. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) includes provisions that seek to address the problems of mass incarceration and over-criminalization by reducing mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and granting judges greater discretion in sentencing decisions. The legislation represents the most significant attempt at criminal justice reform in years.

The Senate should act on this bipartisan consensus and demonstrate much-needed unity around urgent reforms to the criminal justice system. The SRCA has robust bipartisan support – if your Senator is already cosponsoring the legislation, please thank them. If not, urge your Senators to cosponsor the legislation, so that we can create fairer sentencing laws, improve prison practices and encourage successful reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals across the country.

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  • Background:

    The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S.1917) would reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses, give judges greater discretion in sentencing and make retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which substantially reduced the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. The bill would also create a new system by which prisoners can have their sentences reduced for participation in recidivism reduction programs and reform the federal juvenile justice system to ensure better treatment for youth offenders.

    With more than 2.2 million Americans in prison or jail, the United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world. Of the total population of prisoners in federal incarceration centers, 46% are serving time for drug offenses. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38% of state and federal prisoners in 2014 were black and 21% were Hispanic, despite African Americans and Hispanics comprising only 13.2% and 17.4% of the total US population, respectively. Further, African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment rate of whites.

    Jewish Values:

    While preventing and punishing criminal conduct are among the primary obligations of government at all levels, it is also the obligation of government to ensure that no one is unjustly accused, convicted or punished. We reaffirm the Biblical concept that a criminal is a human being, capable of reshaping his or her life. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). We must work for a criminal justice system that gives those who are incarcerated a chance for self-reform and to reentry into society.

    Urgency of Now Campaign:

    The Reform Movement’s Urgency of Now Initiative Criminal Justice Reform Campaign pursues our vision for racial justice by working to end mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Congregations that participate in our campaign will use the "Reflect, Relate, Reform" framework to deepen their capacity to organize for racial justice and join in local efforts to change criminal justice policies and practices in their communities. To get involved, please email Matt Fidel.

    More information:

    You can email your elected officials through our form above, or you can call the Capital Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to speak directly with their offices.

    For more information on this issue, visit the RAC’s criminal justice resources page or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Matt Fidel.