In the traditional seder, towards the end we include selections from Hallel, a collection of psalms that celebrate the joy of the occasion. Although there is much work to be done to improve our criminal justice system, there is also room for rejoicing. Several important victories for the rights of those with criminal records merit thanksgiving. Tonight, we recognize and celebrate the following victories:
● In 2007 Maryland repealed its lifetime prohibition against voting for people with felony convictions who had completed their sentences. This resulted in the restoration of voting rights for more than 52,000 people. [All recite: Hallelluyah]
● The federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity in sentencing for the possession of the same weight of crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The law also eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. However, more reform is needed to completely eliminate the sentencing disparity. [All recite: Hallelluyah]
● The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stepped up its enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, under which it is illegal for employers to take into account an applicant's arrest record when hiring or have a blanket policy against hiring individuals with criminal records. Recent high profile enforcement actions have included lawsuits against BMW, Dollar General and Pepsi for hiring practices that illegally discriminated against individuals with criminal records. [All recite: Hallelluyah]
● Over the past decade, 56 jurisdictions have enacted some form of “Ban the Box” legislation. In 2013 Maryland enacted "Ban the Box" for State government jobs, expanding upon a policy that had already been in place since 2007 for Baltimore City government jobs. As momentum has grown, Target recently became one of the largest employers to voluntarily implement “Ban the Box” company-wide, positively impacting people applying for jobs at its 1,800 stores. [All recite: Hallelluyah]
The Passover seder ends with a statement of hope: “l’shanah habaah b’Yerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem)!” This ancient phrase expresses our longing for redemption. Tonight these words take on new meaning as we long for a world with a reformed criminal justice system, wherein we eliminate discrimination in who we arrest, convict and sentence. We long for a world where we help people caught in the drug trade to access jobs and treatment, rather than subjecting them to incarceration. We long for a world where we restore the civil rights of those who have completed their sentences and eliminate the discriminatory stigma of a criminal record. Finally, we long for a world where the criminal justice system no longer functions as a system of racial control. Let us join together to make that dream a reality.
L’shanah habaah b’Yerushalayim
לשנה הבאה בירושלים
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