July 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

More on Our Criminal Justice System

I completely agree with Nina Glick’s general point in last week’s column (“A Different Standard. Or Is It?” June 27, 2024), that the criminal justice system is often incredibly unfair and unnecessarily cruel, especially to those who do not have the means to pay for a proper defense. However, I’d like to correct some misinformation and gently push back on some of the conclusions made.

First of all, the Otisville Federal Prison Camp, the facility known for its accommodations to observant Jews, is not the prison that the New York governor is possibly shutting down, as it is a federal prison and not under the state’s purview. The Otisville prison being considered for closure is a state prison with a similar name that is not related to the “Jewish” Otisville at all.

Secondly, while those who are able to pay for a good defense certainly have an advantage over those who don’t in the sentencing process, I’d like to push back on the narrative that Jews are treated with a double standard in the criminal justice system or that the sentences they receive are not a fitting punishment. As I work with the Aleph Institute, the largest Jewish criminal justice organization, I can say that there are many Jews who end up in trial without a penny to their name who suffer all the same inequities of the justice system as other groups, and that’s assuming you don’t have the misfortune of facing a judge with a bias against Jews. Furthermore, Otisville Prison Camp has fewer than 100 inmates in the whole facility; the vast majority of Jews are in other prisons, where we have many times had to advocate for their safety against antisemitic attacks within those prisons. We’ve had cases where Jews were locked in solitary confinement for weeks, some of the worst torture you can imagine, just so guards wouldn’t have to deal with having to protect them from prison gangs. Even within Otisville, the Jewish accommodations may seem strange until you realize that almost every minimum security prison in the country has the same level of accommodations for practicing Christianity, since that’s the majority religion in the country. There is no issue with having one prison in the country where Jews can receive those same accommodations and be treated with dignity.

The column asks if anybody is looking at the effects on the children of the incarcerated in our community. I can proudly answer that yes we are, with over 1,400 families with an incarcerated family member to which we provide support. These families, often with a now single mother and children, have suddenly lost their primary breadwinner, the children are often shunned by the community for a crime they didn’t commit, are rejected from schools, denied playdates and are unable to attend camp. It is absolutely devastating, and there isn’t a single Jewish father in Otisville who isn’t agonizing every day about the destruction they brought to their family and others.

Pointing out the inequalities in the justice system is admirable, but the conclusion should not be that people who are in humane prisons actually conducive to rehabilitation like Otisville are not being punished enough; in fact, it’s the opposite, we need to elevate other prisons to be more humane, treating the human beings inside with basic dignity, and in certain cases not use prison as the default sentence when a different sentence could be more productive for rehabilitation. And then, if the sentence is finished and remorse is shown, we should be allowing them a second chance in life (which is different than needing to be friends).

Lastly, the column asks what can be done about the injustices many in the system face. There are many organizations hard at work to answer this, but I would be remiss to not toot the horn of the Aleph Institute where I work, which not only provides advocacy for nonviolent incarcerated individuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, but also works towards significant criminal justice reform. This past October, in probably the only event by a Jewish organization not canceled that month, Aleph Institute, along with the Center for Justice and Human Dignity (an organization Aleph incubated), hosted the Rewriting the Sentence Summit, to discuss alternatives to incarceration in sentencing. The summit was attended by over 400 stakeholders, including many federal judges, prosecutors, and formerly incarcerated individuals all eager to enact positive change within our justice system. The event is viewable online at cjhd.org/summit.

The change is slow, but it is being done by those who care, and it is a kiddush Hashem that visibly religious Jews at the Aleph Institute are part of those leading the way. If anybody would like to learn more, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or check out aleph-institute.org and cjhd.org

Meir Brodsky
Teaneck

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles