Criminal justice reform, marijuana hot topics at JCPA conference

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

(Editor’s note: Beth Salamon, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, co-wrote this month’s column.)
This month, four members from our community went to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs annual conference in Washington, D.C, where representatives from JCRCs around the country and 17 national agencies met to discuss the latest trends in community relations and what is happening at the national level. They also heard from experts in fields of criminal justice reform, Israel advocacy, interreligious relations and many others.
One of the highlights of our time at this conference is the Resolutions session.
Every year, JCRCs meet to propose resolutions defining where the national Jewish community lies on different issues that are particularly topical at any given time. For example, Jewish communities have historically voted on resolutions related to voting rights, specific policies in Israel and federal funding for Holocaust survivors. Pretty much any topic that confronts the Jewish community is investigated, vetted and voted on at this conference.
These resolutions are then added to a comprehensive policy compendium that acts as a guide for us, and all other JCRC’s, in forming policy positions when confronted with these issues. Louisville has a proud and strong history with our involvement in this process. Not only have we co-sponsored many resolutions (most recently on same-sex marriage, mandatory Holocaust education, and advocating for the Rohingya minority in Burma), but Marie Abrams chaired this for many years. Next year, Louisvillian Corey Shapiro will take over the duties. Our community should be immensely proud of our national role here.
This year, we voted on several new resolutions and the national debate among the communities was fascinating. To highlight a few, we considered resolutions relating to restorative and rehabilitative justice and the legalization of marijuana – two sides of the same coin.
Consistent with our efforts on Criminal Justice reform, the Jewish community has prioritized policies that would reduce the prison population, which has exploded in the last 20 years – a situation that is destroying communities around the country, particularly those of color.
Jewish communities nationwide have recently decided to support programs that create alternatives to jail (drug treatment, counselling, restitution, etc.) for certain crimes, as well as robust restorative programming for those getting out of jail.
To further reduce the jail population, our Louisville delegation voted to support efforts to legalize marijuana after an intense discussion at our local JCRC meeting. Marijuana laws disproportionately affect communities of color; legalizing it (along with expungement of criminal records for marijuana related crimes) could fix this.
However, this resolution was not passed. Passage requires consensus, and while more delegates voted for rather than against, there were too many abstentions. Hopefully, communities will be better educated about this issue in the future and pass this measure.
Again, the resolutions passed do not bind us to any policy, but they are a guide to reaching consensus, locally and nationally, on any given topic, and they are a key ingredient in formulating our own positions.
This was a wonderful conference and a great opportunity to discuss issues concerning the Jewish community with leaders from around the country.

(Matt Goldberg is director of Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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