Over 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, an increase of 1.9 million since 1972. “Tough on crime” law enforcement and sentencing policy adopted in the 1980s has exploded incarceration rates in the U.S., particularly among people of color, quadrupling the number of prisoners per capita in the United States. Throughout every phase, from setting bail, to initial sentencing, to serving time, to release and re-entry, our system is one of over-criminalization and mass incarceration, which disproportionately ensnares low-income people and people of color.
This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the FIRST STEP Act (H.R.5682), an attempt to implement limited reforms in the federal prison system. Unfortunately, this legislation alone will not achieve meaningful change, and many provisions within the bill will disproportionately harm people of color. Moreover, pursuing prison reform without sentencing reform will not stem the tide of mass incarceration, a phenomenon that is devastating American families and communities and perpetuating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
It is critical for our elected representatives to hear that Reform Jews demand meaningful sentencing reform and oppose efforts to pursue harmful prison reform legislation. Urge your Representatives to oppose the FIRST STEP Act and urge your Senators to support the comprehensive Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.1917) so that we can remedy unfair sentencing laws, improve prison practices, and encourage successful reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals across the country.