"Solitary confinement breaks a man's will to live. He's never the same person again."
- Death row exoneree Anthony Graves
The American prison system is broken and it's one of the worst human rights crises in America today!
- Incarceration rates in the United States are by far the largest in the world. These rates quintupled from 1990-2010, and 2.3 million Americans are in jail right now.
- Solitary confinement is the prolonged isolation of a prisoner with virtually no external stimuli. Solitary confinement rates are increasing even faster than incarceration rates. There are currently 80,000 people locked in solitary confinement.
- Solitary confinement has been condemned as a human rights violation by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. It damages basic mental faculties within 48 hours, and is the setting for half of all prison suicides.
- Solitarily confined prisoners are not the "worst of the worst." Most prisoners enter solitary confinement for minor rule violations. (See p. 56 of the report)
What will YOU do to end this crisis?
In commemoration of Yosef's prison sentence, starting in Parshat Vayeishev and ending in Parshat Miketz, Uri L'Tzedek has declared December 9 - 15 Jewish Prison Reform Week. Please read below for contextual information and a list of action steps you can take as a community.
Uri L'Tzedek is committed to ending solitary confinement. This degrading practice goes against the cardinal Jewish value of Tzelem Elokim, that all people are created in God's image. In the Talmud, our Rabbis on multiple occasions place safeguards on judicial penalties -- sometimes even canceling them -- in order to avoid embarrassing or degrading people convicted of a crime.
During Jewish Prison Reform Week Uri L'Tzedek encourages you to:
- Give a d'var Torah or teach a shiur on prison reform in your community.
- Host a Shabbat dinner and lead a discussion about prison reform.
- Write an article or an Op-Ed for your community newsletter or local paper.
- Tell 5 friends about the Uri L'Tzedek/NRCAT petition on solitary confinement.
- Join Uri L'Tzedek and Orthodox Rabbis to Support Prison Reform with our online pledge.
- Listen to Anthony Graves' first hand account of a person who lived in solitary confinement for 18 years, in his recent testimony to congress.
- Print out the NYCLU report "Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York's Prisons" and some Torah sources and leave it in a communal spot (your synagogue, Hillel, beit midrash etc)
- Make an announcement letting your community know about this important social justice issue and encourage them to take steps 1-7.
Resources from Prison Reform Yom Iyun - November 2012
1. Source Sheets: Prison Reform Social Justice Beit Midrash and Milim Havivin
2. See here for video from Gregory Reddick, past prisoner, Yom Iyun, November 2012.
3. NYCLU Report
4. Talking Points
Read here about Uri L'Tzedek's partnership with the Tag Institute.
Below, you can read articles and watch videos by Uri L'Tzedek Founder & President Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz: