Ending Mass Incarceration

CBST is passionately committed to education, advocacy, and service to communities that face disproportionate rates of incarceration, and to assisting people who are impacted by incarceration. We want better to understand the deep legacy of racial inequality and economic injustice in this country, and the continuing impact of enslavement and Jim Crow in the present day. 

Want to learn more about upcoming programs or find out about getting involved with the team? Contact Rabbi Marisa James or team leaders Lee Jason Goldberg and Laurie Magid to learn more. 

The United States incarcerates more of its people than any other nation on Earth. The United States has just 4 percent of the planet’s population, but 22 percent of it is imprisoned. U.S. prisons held fewer than 300,000 people in the early 1970s. 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 disproportionately impacts people of color--one out of every three black men will spend time behind bars--and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately represented in the prison population. There is little support for returning citizens to rebuild their lives when they are released. Covid-19 and the immigration crisis have only exacerbated this emergency.

Join us online at 6 pm on July 7th for moderated Zoom panel discussion on Ken Burns' College Behind Bars, a documentary about the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). You can watch some or all of the four-part series on Netflix, and here is a discussion guide. View the trailer or the extended trailer for College Behind Bars! We will be joined by BPI founder Max Kenner, BPI graduate Dyjuan Tatro, and one more BPI graduate. Email Lee if you have any questions or need help accessing the documentary. Feel free to join us even if you don't watch! Click here to register for the event. 


Become a pen pal, especially with someone who is LGBTQ. Let us know if you’re interested; CBST sometimes gets letters from incarcerated people, and we also find pen pals through Black and Pink.

You can help to ensure that no trans person at risk in NYC jails remains in detention before their trial by volunteering to post bail. CBST members have been trained to post – and have posted – bail, with funds contributed to the Emergency Release Fund (not your own money). Sign up to volunteer or contribute here.

Our Work

  • February 2019: CBST partnered with Witness to Mass Incarceration to provide suitcases to recently released individuals. Each suitcase costs $2,000, and provides a person newly released with basic necessities to help them as 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.

  • March 2019: In conjunction with Etgar 36, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and a group of nearly 40 CBST members 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. In Montgomery, Alabama, the site of the iconic 1955 bus boycott, we visited two remarkable institutions created by Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). His legal defense organization provides representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is where EJI brings to light the horrific story of lynching in the South, and the Legacy Museum traces the history from enslavement to mass incarceration in the United States. 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. 

  • September 2019: CBST announced the Ending Mass Incarceration Team, our initiative to learn more about and work to end mass incarceration in the United States. 

  • October 2019: We held a discussion group on ending mass incarceration during the afternoon of Yom Kippur.

  • November 2019: We read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and held a book discussion event. 

  • January 2020: We held a private screening of the film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson's best-selling book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Following the screening, we discussed the film over light snacks.

  • March-April 2020: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, CBST supported residents of a domestic violence shelter in Harlem, coordinated by Movement for Family Power, and individuals newly released from Rikers, coordinated by Exodus Transitional Community (ETC) in partnership with Central Synagogue and Congregation Beth Elohim. You can still purchase items needed by these organizations by going to their wish lists on Amazon: here for the domestic violence shelter and here for ETC.

  • May 2020: CBST members joined the Osborne Association as both panelists and “cheerleaders”  for their Virtual Career Day for teens and young adults (ages 13-25) whose parents are currently or formerly incarcerated. 

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

Suggested Reading Material