The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council shares the nationwide concern over problems of crime and violence which plague schools, cities, and suburban communities. The potential for inner city neighborhood revitalization is too often impeded by criminal activity that undermines efforts to enhance economic development, create jobs, and improve schools. The use of illegal handguns alone kills over 24,000 Americans each year, and guns are a leading cause of death for teenage males. In suburban as well as in urban communities, individuals seek assurance that they and their children can move safely about neighborhoods and schools. Neighborhood revitalization and stability anywhere is not possible without anti-crime strategies that render communities safer for families and ensure the protection of children.
A growing public alarm has strengthened the political popularity of strict and costly punitive strategies, overshadowing the importance of also exploring alternative options. Although society has both the right and obligation to protect its citizens, the nation is challenged today to devise the best combination of anti-crime strategies for maximum impact at the lowest cost, in terms of dollars and also in term of individual liberties. While long-term imprisonment is necessary for hard-core criminals, the “pensive option of lengthy incarceration is not always the most effective solution for all offenders. On the whole, certainty of swift punishment is a better deterrent than length of sentence. A rational allocation of anti-crime resources must also include: alternatives to incarceration, government funding for such mechanisms as intensive parole supervision and juvenile supervision programs, and effective measures to prevent crime. Further, a comprehensive policy, which includes prevention, must also address the links between crime and poverty; those underlying social and economic factors that allow criminal activity to flourish, including drug and substance abuse, lack of employment opportunities, poor housing and an inadequate education system.
Some research evidence has also linked exposure to entertainment media violence with increased aggression and desensitization to real crime. Such data pose a significant challenge to a nation pledged to safeguard free speech. Public education campaigns, including efforts directed toward the media industry, parents, and youth, are needed to enhance awareness of the problem and to encourage responsible exercise of first amendment rights by all citizens.
We recognize the numerous and complex factors contributing to violence and therefore support effective crime control through improved policing techniques, enhanced control of firearms, and flexible enforcement mechanisms. These must be balanced with comprehensive community strategies and legislative measures, with adequate funding, to promote youth intervention and other prevention programs as key to effective long-term crime reduction. Further, we believe that public zeal to curb criminal violence must not be allowed to weaken the national commitment to constitutional protections. Acceptable anti-crime measures are those which can be implemented without endangering individual liberty or constitutional rights. There is both need and opportunity for grassroots involvement in local coalitions to develop, promote and monitor these efforts.
With the understanding that anti-crime legislation alone is not sufficient without a commitment also to attack the underlying social ills that engender criminal activity and allow it to flourish, we support the following enforcement strategies:
Adequate levels of funding for police, including community policing; enhanced training and education for police officers.
Strong federal, state, and local measures to control and reduce the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns and other non-sporting firearms and ammunition; the 1994 Crime Bill assault weapons ban; stricter, enforced regulation of gun dealers; appropriate waiting periods to permit background checks; improved regulation of interstate sales of weapons; and community efforts to reduce the quantity of guns and ammunition on the streets.
Alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, which, property administered, can punish criminals, deter others, and reduce the cost of incarceration. Existing alternatives include: half-way houses, victim restitution, community service, work-release programs, juvenile court diversion programs, electronic monitoring, drug courts and other alternative drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.
In-prison drug and alcohol treatment and other rehabilitation programs for adults and juveniles, as well as aftercare programs; community involvement in aftercare and other prisoner release programs.
Enhanced community approaches to law enforcement, including neighborhood/police partnerships, neighborhood safety committees.
Judicial discretion in criminal sentencing, taking into account all pertinent circumstances, including seriousness of the crime and mitigating circumstances, subject to appellate review.
Excessive or indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which remove all judicial discretion and do not consider individual circumstances, and which often imprison non-violent offenders, reducing space available for long-term incarceration of violent criminals.
In keeping with the NJCRAC’s longstanding opposition to capital punishment, we oppose efforts to expand the category of crimes punishable by the death penalty and to unduly restrict a prisoner’s ability to file habeas corpus petitions.
We support the following prevention measures:
Cooperative efforts among community groups, city, state and federal agencies, with adequate government funding, to create youth intervention programs offering alternatives to violent activity, such as: summer and after-school education and recreation programs, including such initiatives as Beacon Schools, which remain open before and after school hours, to provide a range of educational and social services; jobs, job training and job counseling; gang-resistance education; midnight sports leagues; peer counseling; mentoring; and substance abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Similar efforts to support local community outreach programs for at-risk families, which address those social factors that allow crime to flourish, such as: substance abuse and prevention programs, mentoring and parenting programs, job training, and efforts to overcome the tragedy of all forms of family violence.
Youth education and public awareness campaigns, and voluntary guidelines concerning depiction of violence in movies, television programming music, video and computer games.
The NJCRAC urges local and national Jewish organizations to join in coalition with other civic, religious, and advocacy groups to promote the development of comprehensive anti-crime strategies, including those which involve community organizations, and to participate in the implementation and monitoring of local programs.
Dissent: The Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV), in keeping with longstanding policy, dissents from that section of the guidelines which opposes the death penalty. JWV continues to support capital punishment for those heinous crimes which warrant such a penalty.