Engaging the Jewish Community in Criminal Justice

JCPA’s Criminal Justice Initiative engages Jewish communities around the country in reforming the criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration as partners with the communities most directly affected. The mission:

  • Educate and empower the Jewish community to TAKE ACTION on criminal justice
  • Advocate to CHANGE UNJUST LAWS and improve law enforcement practices
  • SUPPORT INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES harmed by incarceration
  • BUILD ALLIANCES between Jews and communities of color

The inequities people of color suffer at the hands of the justice system constitute one of the most pressing civil rights issues in the U.S. Beginning in the 1970s, the U.S. prison population exploded, contributing to poverty, income inequality, and family instability. Today, the U.S. incarcerates a full quarter of the world’s total prison population, with state prisons housing over 85% of those incarcerated, which is why local mobilization is critical.

The Jewish community has a distinguished track record on fighting for racial equality and civil rights throughout the U.S. However, more than 50 years after the passage of landmark civil rights legislation, our society still struggles to fully embrace equality. But through partnerships and active engagement, we can help to change that.

Project Highlights

National Network of Jewish Criminal Justice Experts

In December 2018, JCPA brought together more than 40 Jewish criminal justice experts from 15 states for a two-day convening in Washington, D.C.  As a result of this meeting, JCPA established a national network chaired by former U.S. District Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman—a first step in moving forward a significant Jewish voice for reform.

Criminal Justice Reform Task Force

A task force of JCPA leaders oversees the criminal justice policy work.

Federal Criminal Justice Reform

JCPA is active in national policy setting on criminal justice reform, advocating on Capitol Hill and partnering closely with civil rights and interfaith coalitions, such as with the Leadership Conference and the Justice Roundtable.

Grassroots Jewish Mobilization

Across the U.S., JCPA is empowering Jewish communities to tackle this challenging issue at the state and local level. Several Jewish Community Relations Councils are already engaged in programming, such as in legal counsel, alternatives to detention, policy advocacy, and coalition-building.

For more information, contact Roy Waterman at rwaterman@thejcpa.org.

The Language of Engagement on Criminal Justice Reform
Roy Waterman

Our quest to dismantle and recreate our criminal justice system begins with the language we use when we describe those who have broken the norms of society.

Click here to read more.

In Your Backyard: A Toolkit for Addressing Criminal Justice at the Local Level

Our toolkit provides overall guidance, tips, and tools to help you:

  • Map out your local criminal justice landscape
  • Join coalitions and engage in legislative advo­cacy
  • Strengthen partnerships with communities of color
  • Launch direct service projects
  • Learn best practices from successful programs implemented by Jewish communities


Recommended Viewing

Movements to End Incarceration

On The Front Lines – Civil Rights in America

Recommended Reading

Collective reading and book clubs are an effective way to raise awareness about the criminal justice system and systemic racism, and the impact on our country and our communities, particularly communities of color.

alexander-m-newjimcrow 4c3b15348b0b878f1d75067fabcdb618 lead_960

Additional Resources

The Multifaith Initiative to End Mass Incarceration: Ending Mass Incarceration: Resources and Action Toolkit

T’ruah: Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration

Repair the World, in partnership with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, OneTable and Gather: Turn the Tables on Racial Justice: Shabbat Dinner Host Guide