Jewish approach to criminal justice to be studied at the Rohr Chabad Center this winter

With criminal justice reform currently taking center-stage, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute – the world’s largest Jewish adult education network – is launching a course that explores the Jewish approach to the questions of crime, punishment and justice. “Crime and Consequence” is a six-part series that will be offered beginning in February locally as well as at hundreds of locations worldwide.
The United States of America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. A reported 2.3 million Americans are in prisons and jails: almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners are in America.
In a rare show of bipartisan workmanship, the First Step Act passed the Senate in December and is soon expected to become law. Among other provisions, the bill gives prisoners new ways to earn early release, expands compassionate release for terminally ill prisoners and will keep inmates closer to their families. The bill is said to have brought the debate about criminal justice into focus; Americans are discussing the value of tougher or smarter reforms, fairness of mandatory minimum sentencing as opposed to judicial discretion and whether prison is at all effective in reforming criminals.
JLI’s “Crime and Consequence” course will tackle these questions from a Jewish perspective, addressing topics such as “What’s the purpose of prison: punishment, deterrence or rehabilitation?,” “What’s Judaism’s position on the death penalty?” and “Can criminals ever make amends, and, if so, how?” The course will draw on ancient Jewish sources, while using contemporary materials to give a modern context to the discussion.
Course participants will discover that the Jewish approach to justice goes well beyond the reforms in the First Step Act, providing alternative sentences for non-dangerous criminals that are tailored to fit the crime, and advocating for rehabilitation programs that continue well after punishment has been served.
“The debate over the First Step Act shows that Judaism’s timeless truths and insights about human nature, society and wrongdoing are as relevant today as ever before,” said Rivkah Slonim, course director. “JLI’s ‘Crime and Consequence’ course brings these important Jewish perspectives home to our own community.”
The program has won early endorsements from law professors and criminal justice campaigners.
Dr. John H. Laub, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, welcomed the course. “Questions about the causes of crime and the appropriate governmental response have challenged and bedeviled social thinkers for centuries. Indeed, such big questions have no easy answers. In light of the current bi-partisan support for criminal justice reform, especially at the state and local level, the course is timely and important. I am glad to see the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute take on this topic in a thoughtful and productive manner,” he said.
“We are now at a moment of changing attitudes among policymakers and the general public regarding the world-record prison population in the United States. With increasing calls for a change in our approach to crime and punishment, the JLI course is quite timely in helping to frame these issues for a broad audience,” noted Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.
Two of JLI’s other adult education courses – “How Happiness Thinks” and “Living with Integrity” – are on a list of just 66 programs recommended to prison wardens nationwide as recidivism-reducing by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as part of the new prison reforms.
In Binghamton, the course will be offered at the Rohr Chabad Center in Vestal on six consecutive Mondays at 7 pm beginning on February 4, and on six consecutive Wednesdays at 9:30 am beginning on February 6.
The cost for the course, which includes the text book, is $79 for individuals and $140 for couples or multiple sign-ups. The course is accredited for Continuing Legal Education is most states, including New York.
To sign up, write to rslonim@chabadofbinghamton.com, call the Chabad Center at 797-0015 or register online at myjli.com.
JLI, the adult education branch of Chabad-Lubavitch, offers programs in more than 960 locations in the U.S. and in numerous foreign countries, including Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Panama, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela. More than 400,000 students have attended JLI classes since the organization was founded in 1998.