Ending Mass Incarceration

In September 2019, CBST announced our new initiative to learn more about and work to end Mass Incarceration in the United States. 

Join us as we begin learning together as a community by joining our book club, reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, and planning to come to the book discussion event on Sunday November 24. Click here to learn more, including how to register and where to find a copy of the book. 

The United States incarcerates more of its people than any other nation on Earth. LGBTQ+ people are disproportionally represented in the prison population. And there is little or no support for returning citizens to rebuild their lives when they are released.

For five days in early March, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and a group of nearly 40 CBST members in conjunction with Etgar 36 rode the trail of the civil rights movement in the American South, concentrating on the sites and stories associated with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from 1955 to 1968. On our second day, in Montgomery, Alabama, the same place as the iconic 1955 bus boycott, we visited two remarkable institutions created by Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a legal defense organization providing representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons.  

Many of us returned from our journey inspired to deepen CBST’s social justice efforts in the area of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, expanding on the re-entry work we began earlier this year with the Suitcase Project. Over the next several months, CBST will be exploring various ways that we can make a difference on this urgent civil rights issue, including continuing our work with recently released individuals, visiting re-entry courts and restorative justice programs, and partnering with faith-based and community organizations who are already leaders in the field.

On our Civil Rights Journey, we visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, where EJI brings to light the horrific story of lynching in the South, and the Legacy Museum, where EJI traces the history of racial inequality and economic injustice in the United States from enslavement to mass incarceration. According to Stevenson, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation on Earth, representing 4 percent of the planet’s population but 22 percent of its imprisoned. U.S. prisons held fewer than 300,000 people in the early 1970s, but since then, that number has grown to more than 2.2 million, with 4.5 million more on probation or parole. The U.S. criminal justice system also disproportionately impacts people of color, where one out of every three black men will spend time behind bars.

CBST is partnering with Witness to Mass Incarceration to provide suitcases to returning citizens. Each suitcase costs $2,000, and provides a person newly released with basic necessities to help them at they reenter society, including clothes that fit, toiletries, a computer so that they can begin to look for work, and a community to welcome them as they begin this new journey. Join us by clicking here to donate.

We highly recommend the resources that T’ruah has collected and created for Jewish communities working to end mass incarceration.

If you're interested in getting more involved on this issue, contact Rabbi Marisa James at rabbijames@cbst.org or Lee Jason Goldberg at leejgoldberg@gmail.com to learn more. 

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