Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration

T’ruah’s Handbook for Jewish Communities Fighting Mass Incarceration includes

  • Jewish texts on criminal justice, policing, and prisons.
  • Reflections by people engaged in the criminal justice system, including rabbi chaplains, the formerly incarcerated, and more.
  • Information on how your community can get involved in creating a more fair criminal justice system.
  • Background on issues connected with incarceration in short, easily-understood chunks.

Learn about topics such as

  • Racial disparities in policing
  • Sentencing
  • Prison conditions
  • Solitary confinement
  • Treatment of juveniles
  • Special issues for women and LGBTQ people
  • Re-entry


To browse or download one section at a time, use the following table of contents.


3   Introduction and Acknowledgements

4   Mass Incarceration: A Complex and Dangerous System

5      Why Jews Should Care About Mass Incarceration

7      Overview of Mass Incarceration

8      Basic Statistics

9      A Brief History of T’ruah’s Involvement

10    Definitions

13    Race, Racism, and Incarceration

16    International Comparisons

17    Bipartisan Reform Efforts

18    A Timeline of Mass Incarceration

Before Incarceration

21    Policing

27    The Drug War

31    Militarization of Police

34    Civil Asset Forfeiture

35    Poverty and Mass Incarceration

39    People Convicted of Violent, Nonviolent, and Sex Offenses

42    The School-to-Prison Pipeline

44    Restorative Justice and Victims’ Rights

48    Prosecutors and Plea Deals

During Incarceration

50    Overcrowding, State Budgets, and the Rise of Private Prisons

53    Private Prisons

55    Jails

57    Special Populations: Women, Youth, LGBT People, and People with Mental illness

67    Prison Labor

69    Prison Rape

71    Solitary Confinement

75    Immigration Prisons: Operating in the Shadows

78    Life Without the Possibility of Parole

80    The Families of the Incarcerated

81    Outside the Walls: Prison Towns

After Incarceration

82    Barriers to Reentry

87    Parole

88    Recidivism: A Slippery Problem

90    Reentry Programs: What Works

93    Summing Up

Jewish Resources

95    Introduction to Jewish Resources

96    Opportunities to Speak About Mass Incarceration Throughout the Year

97    High Holiday Sermon Sparks

98    Praying for an End to Mass Incarceration

100  Police in Jewish Law: A Brief Overview

102  Text Study: Policing in Jewish Law

108  Text Study: Oppression and Justice, Then and Now

110   Incarceration in Jewish Law: A Brief Overview

113   Text Study: Jews Incarcerating Other Jews–What Can We Learn?

117   Text Study: Cities of Refuge, by Rabbi Nancy Wiener

123   Holding a Vision of Freedom, by Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari

125   Poem: On Joseph and Solitary Confinement, by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

126   Text Study: Jonah and Solitary Confinement

130   What Jonah Teaches Us About Repentance, by Rabbi Avi Killip

131   Text Study: The Metzora As A Model For Welcoming Returning Citizens

134   Using Birkat HaGomel as a Ritual of Reentry and Reconciliation, by Alison J. Link, PhD, and Morris Treibitz

137   Crime Victims’ Needs and Restorative Justice: Three Perspectives, by Sharii Silberstein, Rabbi Avi Killip, and Danielle Sered

142   Text Study: Victims and Perpetrators: Teshuvah and Restorative Justice

147   Text Study: Justice Among Brothers

149   Two Final Lessons the U.S. Could Learn From Jewish Criminal Law

150   Lesson Plan: Change the Conversation About Justice

Take Action

154   Introduction and Organizations To Follow

156   Education That Leads to Action

157   Start Inside Your Community

159   Using Art and Media for Advocacy and Education

162   It Starts With Advocacy….But It Doesn’t Stop There

164   Get Connected

165   Reaching Out To Incarcerated People and Their Families

168 How Clergy Can Help Inside Prisons and Jails

170 Jewish Language for Protest Signs

171 Recommended Reading



“Ferguson/Fargesn,” sermon from Rosh Hashanah 5775 by Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, delivered at Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley, CA

This sermon blew us away. We offer it as a model and source of inspiration, with gratitude to Rabbi Rothbaum for permission to feature it here.