From Conversation to Action

Action

Partnership in Criminal Justice Reform

Capitol building

From Conversation to Action

Action

Partnership in Criminal Justice Reform

In response to the murder of George Floyd, leaders of Seattle’s Black faith community identified three keys to Black advancement: criminal justice reform, economic opportunity and education.

We see all three as connected.

All three of these elements are highlighted by Gilda Sheppard’s documentary film, “Since I Been Down.” The film describes the transformation of Kimonti Carter, an African American man serving a life sentence for his part in a drive by gang shooting when he was eighteen. In prison, Kimonti started TEACH (Taking Education and Creating History), empowering prisoners to take pride in teaching each other and creating unprecedented bonding among white, Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander prisoners—a true Beloved Community!

Inspired by the film, we created the Multifaith Coalition for Restorative Justice with the goal of changing Washington State’s incarceration system from one that is harsh and abusive to one that is transformative and restorative.

The Coalition showed the film to 700 households in the Washington State faith community and led discussion groups of mixed racial and ethnic composition. Our goal was and is to harness the energy inspired by the film to support civic and political leaders who are already working to change the system with a series of concrete actions, including:

Changing the Law

The goal of our multifaith group is to create an incarceration system that is transformative, not punitive, a system which values the humanity of each incarcerated person and seeks to maximize his/her unrealized human potential. We believe this approach will also increase public safety in the long run. Towards that end, we engage in public advocacy to bring needed changes to the system by changing Washington State law.

On January 25, 2021, our group held a Lobbying Day for Incarceration Reform. We represented 14 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations in the Puget Sound Area, covering 12 legislative districts. We met with eighteen legislators on that day, in support of six bills covering three categories of incarceration reform:

Reducing excessively long sentences

Excessively long sentences are unreasonably punitive and take us away from the goal of transformation. These bills are aimed at sentence reduction: HB5036(expanding clemency), HB1413 (juvenile points), HB1169(de-stacking sentence enhancements).

Cruel treatment in prison

Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, does nothing to further the goal of transformation, and reflects poor training of prison staff. HB1756 would limit solitary confinement.

Removing barriers to re-entry

A transformative system of justice will always be focused on the goal of creating a path for the incarcerated person to be a contributing member of society when he is released. HB1412(reducing debt) and a billed modeled after SB6490 (preventing housing discrimination) would remove barriers to re-entry.

For a fuller explanation of the content and rationale of these bills, go to the Multi-faith Criminal Justice Reform Team Facebook Group.

Changing People's Lives

We are working with the business community to create a training program for at risk young people in their twenties to learn technology skills that make them eligible for good jobs, making it less likely they will turn to a life of crime.

Changing Hearts and Minds

What do we see when we view the Kimonti Carters of the world? The aggressive youth who is a threat to society? Or the inspirational creator of Beloved Community he was to become? It all begins with how we tell the story. Key to Dr. King’s philosophy of Beloved Community is our ability to see the humanity of every person and their potential for transformation, even if we disapprove of their behavior. This applies whether we are talking about a single individual or an entire nation.

We are committed to engaging our community in an honest conversation about justice in which a variety of perspectives are heard, in which everyone’s story can be told, and in which no one is canceled or dehumanized for what they believe or what they have done. In our research on best practices we have found the approach of Restorative Justice to be very promising. This coming year we will be devoting significant time to learning more about this method from experts in the field.

Looking Ahead

Legislative Advocacy: In the coming months, we will be preparing for lobbying the 2023 legislative session by consulting with key legislators and leaders in the field of incarceration reform to determine our advocacy priorities for 2023.

Conversation with the Department of Corrections (DOC):We have begun a conversation with the DOC with the goal of bringing all the key stakeholders (including the formerly incarcerated, impacted families, interfaith, political and civic leaders, civic organizations working in the field of criminal justice, DOC staff at all levels, and more) to the table in a collaborative effort to end solitary confinement in Washington State.

Job training: We are continuing to work with Pioneer Human Services to develop training and opportunities for jobs in the public health sector.

Restorative Justice Education: We are developing a faith response to Danielle Sered’s book on Restorative Justice, “Until We Reckon” in the form of a six session curriculum to be piloted by our Multifaith Team in the Fall of 2022.

Partners

Multifaith Criminal Justice Reform Team

  • Dr. Gilda Sheppard
  • Karen Lee
  • Dr. Mark Jones
  • Dr. Audrey Covner
  • Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum
  • Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
  • Rev. Kelle Brown
  • Yaffa Maritz
  • Rabbi Jill Borodin
  • Melani Baker
  • Tom Ewell
  • Frank Jameson
  • Rev. Paul Benz
  • Jennifer Kelly
  • Vince Herberholt
  • Rabbi Avi Fein
  • Aneelah Afzali
  • David Israel
  • Honorable Bobbe Bridge, former Associate Justice of the Washington Supreme Court
  • Judge Michael Heavy, founder of Judges for Justice
  • Dr. Gilda Sheppard
  • Karen Lee
  • Dr. Mark Jones
  • Dr. Audrey Covner
  • Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum
  • Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
  • Rev. Kelle Brown
  • Yaffa Maritz
  • Rabbi Jill Borodin
  • Melani Baker
  • Tom Ewell
  • Frank Jameson
  • Rev. Paul Benz
  • Jennifer Kelly
  • Vince Herberholt
  • Rabbi Avi Fein
  • Aneelah Afzali
  • David Israel
  • Honorable Bobbe Bridge, former Associate Justice of the Washington Supreme Court
  • Judge Michael Heavy, founder of Judges for Justice

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To be in communion with people from Islam, Jewish, and Christian faiths has the potential to step into our brave space to unravel, expose and embrace our contradictions, as we bring committed people together, to create a better understanding of justice , and provide an opportunity to develop coalitions across significant differences in order to imagine , practice and create change together especially for restorative and transformative justice. This is the stuff necessary to build a beloved community across faiths.
Gilda Sheppard
Black-Jewish Bible Study has been especially enlightening. It’s a space where individuals from the Black community and from the Jewish community come together to discuss text, and bring text into context regarding present day issues and events. I’ve learned so much from this crew and look forward to continued growth together.
Ashira Solomon
I have been inspired by the on-going dialogue between Black and Jewish clergy here in Seattle…Together we have been to the top of the Mountain of God.
Rabbi James Mirel
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I have been inspired by the on-going dialogue between Black and Jewish clergy here in Seattle…Together we have been to the top of the Mountain of God.
Rabbi James Mirel