Monday, March 21, 2005

Exclusive: Chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, Chaplain Gary Friedman, disputes Tikkun article by Joel Cohen on Orthodox Jewish felons


At 10:21 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

see original post:

To: Gary Friedman
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 3:47 PM
Subject: Statistics re: Jewish Prisoners

Mr. Friedman,

Several of the readers of my blog are asking for statistics re: jewish
prisoners. I would be interested in any and all statistics you could provide, particularly trends over time.

Several addition questions:
1) How many Jewish prisoners are there? Do you have a breakdown per country or states (within US)? Trends over time?
2) Do have any statistics on the number of Jewish prisoners in jail for various crimes (murder, sexual offences, drugs, white collar crimes)?
3) What is the demand for religious services and kosher meals? Do you have a breakdown by type of kosher meal (lubavitch schitah, a chassidisher
certification etc.)? Trends over time?
4) Do you have a breakdown of Jewish prisoners by demonination they are associated with? Trends over time?
5) Can you comment on the trends noted in the following article or provide any relevant statistics.

Thank you

From: Gary Friedman
To: jewish whistleblower
Sent: Wednesday, March 16, 2005 12:11 PM
Subject: Re: Statistics re: Jewish Prisoners

Thank you for your inquiry.
Joel Cohen's article is highly slanted Orthodox bashing. Furthermore, it is inaccurate and exaggerates an anomaly that is almost exclusively confined to a small segment of the New York Jewish population (which, admittedly, is the highest per capita in the U.S.).
As Chairman of the international pluralist Jewish prison and jail chaplaincy organization (and a prison chaplain myself), I can tell you that if there is such a thing as a 'typical' Jewish inmate, he or she was not afforded the opportunity of a proper Jewish education (which was not his/her fault) and was relatively non-observant prior to being incarcerated. So, why isn't the self-deprecating [I assume, Jew] Mr. Cohen writing about that?
For many Jewish inmates, prison is their first real contact with yiddishkite as prisoners tend to seek an affinity group to help them survive the experience and Jews tend to find other Jews - even if they come from a secularized family and don't know what is to be Jewish.
Statistically, it is difficult to get a handle on exactly how many Jews are imprisoned in the U.S. because they are not required to declare a religious preference. As is the case in the community, there are those who choose to get involved with Jewish activities and those who don't. There's also the matter of some Jewish prisoners - particularly in higher security facilities - not wanting to be identified as Jewish due to valid fears of being discriminated against or otherwise endangered by anti-Semitic staff and inmates. And, there is a current phenomena of many non-Jewish inmates claiming to be Jewish (for a variety of agendas from trying to scam the 'rich' Jewish community through attempting to gain a kosher diet). On the bright side, our best estimate is that actual Jews (by all branch standards) comprise less than .1% - yes, 1/10th of 1% - of the almost 2.3 million men and women currently incarcerated in the U.S. - which, by the way, is the highest prison/jail population and highest incarceration rate in the world. And, I should note that this figure includes many Israelis who've gotten into trouble over here (and around the globe, mainly for drug-related offenses), most of them being typically non-observant Sabras.
Re types of offenses, we have done such a great job of assimilating that Jews are committing the exact same offenses in the exact same proportions as everybody else. As to the Jewish community's preferred belief that Jews don't commit violent offenses, the fact is that Jews have always been involved in violent crime [e.g. the Jewish 'Combination' that preceded and taught the Mafia - and then kept their books for them]. The Jewish notion that somehow 'white collar' [i.e. financial] offenses carry less culpability than other forms of crime is likewise untrue as far more people are seriously harmed by white collar crime [e.g. cases of the life savings of thousands of elderly victims being stolen] than by anything else. Jews are also just as susceptible to drug addiction, familial abusiveness, sexual misconduct, etc., etc. as non-Jews.
As for kosher diets, what does it matter if they have Lubavitch schitah or Chassidisher certification or OU or CRC or anything else? So what if they have a minyan at Otisville [which is the only prison of its kind in the country]? Religious rights are not left at the prison gate and Jewish prisoners are as entitled to their religious practices and standards as are those of other faiths (even though the legions of Evangelical missionaries who haunt prisons would like it to be otherwise). Besides, it is our nature as Jews to come to G-d for the wrong reasons - but that's what gets us there and, G-d-willing, we end up doing the right things for the right reasons. Moreover, it is our theology that every Jew is entitled to the opportunity for redemption.
The truth is that the Orthodox/Chassidic communities account for a very small percentage of Jewish offenders. For almost all of them who are incarcerated, it is a constant battle to be permitted even the smallest of Jewish practices and property, and without the advocacy of Jewish chaplaincies, many of them would be totally obstructed. But then, there are obviously those Jews who feel that this is what t'shevuah should be about. After all, our organization is the least popular in the Jewish world and when it comes to providing support to us or any other cause, it's the other causes that get it.
One more note: Our chaplaincy neither condones our condemns our errant brethren, but we do walk the walk in fulfilling the Jewish mandate of being responsible to all other Jews.
Chaplain Gary Friedman, Chairman
Jewish Prisoner Services International

Background article:

Chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, Chaplain Gary Friedman, left, and president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association, Chaplain Paul Rogers, attend a photo exhibit during the ´Congress of Correction´ in Chicago in August 2004.

U.S. Jewish inmates have stake
in case before Supreme Court
By Matthew E. Berger

WASHINGTON, March 17 (JTA) — When Brandl Rifka was serving time in a Florida prison, she asked for a special meal to break the Yom Kippur fast. Instead, she was given ham.
“They did it purposefully,” she recalls angrily.

Brandl Rifka, who asked that she be identified by her Hebrew name because she is on probation, said she became more religiously observant during the two years she spent in Florida prisons after being convicted of fraud.

In a telephone interview from Florida, she said she faced anti-Semitism on a daily basis from prisoners and guards who, she says, inhibited her attempts to practice her religion, and by others who suggested she accept Jesus.

“It’s beyond punishment,” she said. “If you’re a Jewish prisoner, you’re ostracized in many ways.”

The question of inmates’ ability to practice their religion will come before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 21. The court will hear oral arguments in the case of Cutter v. Wilkinson, an Ohio case that is challenging the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress in 2000 that was intended to expand religious freedom in prison.

That legislation, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, said prisons should not impose substantial burdens on religious expression, unless there was a compelling government interest. It also said prisons should use the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The court’s decision could have implications beyond the prison issue. The legislation requires a compelling reason for the government to deny religious organizations reasonable land use. If the court strikes down the existing law, the land use provision would be defeated as well.

The case before the court stems from complaints by members of several fringe religions — Wicca, Asatru and the Church of Jesus Christ — who filed lawsuits after being denied the ability to worship and purchase religious books and ceremonial items.

Experts say that some inmates become closer to God and religion while they are imprisoned, partially because they are seeking understanding and forgiveness for their misdeeds.

But just as Jews and other minorities are becoming more connected to their faith, they face serious difficulties in expressing it.

“Prisons these days are much more punitive and restrictive than ever,” said chaplain Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, a Washington state-based group that advocates for prisoners’ religious freedom and provides services and materials.

“Corrections people are feeling the people’s mandate to punish, and that means restricting everything, and it extends to religious practice.”

Prisoner advocates say that even though the situation continues to be difficult for Jews, the 2000 law has been instrumental in aiding their fight for Jewish expression.

It is unclear how many Jews are in prison, because the government does not keep statistics on inmates’ religion. Friedman said his organization is in touch with 5,500 inmates, but estimates the number of Jews in prison could be double that.

The situation for Jews and other religious inmates varies from state to state.

Some prisons prevent all religious expression, concerned that prisoners will use religion as a way to get increased privileges. Indeed, some Jewish prisoners interviewed admitted they were drawn to worship services in part because it got them out of their cells each week.

But other prisons allow some religions to flourish while stifling religious minorities.

In some states, such as Colorado, the chaplain service is run by evangelical Christians who do not advocate for rights for Jewish prisoners, Friedman said.

And most states do not provide adequate kosher foods, forcing observant prisoners to eat vegetarian meals, which may lead them to stop keeping kosher, he said.

Richard Dobelle, who spent more than 12 years in federal prisons for trafficking cocaine, recalled in a phone interview from Florida that he told the chaplain at one federal prison that he couldn’t have grain products on his tray during Passover, but the Christian chaplain didn’t tell the kitchen staff.

“He wouldn’t do it,” said Dobelle. “He said they couldn’t do it, but the kitchen told me something different.”

Dobelle, who was released last December, said some prisons allowed him to wear tefillin regularly but others did not, considering them a potential weapon.

At one prison, he had to petition up the chain of command to keep his tefillin in his room but the request was denied. He was told to go to the chaplain every day to retrieve them; eventually, he sneaked them in.

Friedman said prisons are scared of tefillin because the straps could be used as a weapon or a tool for suicide. That, he said, is why many penitentiaries do not permit their use.

At the heart of the court struggle is an effort to get prison officials to think about ways to let religious materials in, Friedman said.

Instead, their tendency is to exclude anything if it could possibly pose a threat.

A U.S. District Court in Ohio ruled for the plaintiffs in 2001, saying the Religious Land Use Act did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, because government is allowed to alleviate governmental interference with religion.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the decision in 2003, arguing the legislation advanced religion by “giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights.”

The Bush administration is defending the law, arguing that it does not afford religious beliefs a new status, but ensures that religious freedoms are evenly extended.

A wide consortium of Jewish groups are parties to a brief, filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, that says the law has the purpose of protecting the free exercise of religion from unnecessary government interference.

For its part, the Ohio government has argued that religious accommodations compromise prison security, and that the law would lead to a dramatic enhancement of prisoner rights, disrupting prison operations.

“It is a powerful tool that prisoners advancing religious claims can use to obtain accommodations,” said the respondent’s brief. “And the standard Congress mandates — strict scrutiny — is the most demanding test known to constitutional law.”

They also argue that the law exceeds Congress’ powers.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a broader version of the legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ruling that Congress did not have the authority to enact such a law, which, the court said, infringed on states’ rights.

The new law, meant to address some of those concerns, cites federal grants to state prisons as justification for the measure.

Meanwhile, experts and former prisoners say Jews are at a disadvantage because there are only a handful of them at each penitentiary, as opposed to many Christians and Muslims.

“It’s like Tonto and the Lone Ranger riding alone, with all the Indians around them,” said Robert Burns, a former inmate who is now director of prisoner services at the Aleph Institute, a Chabad organization that reaches out to Jews in prison.

While some Jews embrace their religion in prison, others assimilate for fear of anti-Semitism.

Brandl Rifka tried to get other Jewish prisoners to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with her. She bought tuna fish and potato chips from the commissary — her definition of a “special meal” at the time — and went to bring it to her peers. An officer stopped her, called her a profanity, threw the meal on the ground, and with a foot on her back, made her pick it off the floor.

“I was discouraged from being a Jew,” she said. “I understood at that point if I didn’t embrace my Judaism, that is how it gets lost for everybody.”

At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opinions are just that. Not studies, not statistics just biased ideas.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger yeshivaguy said...

Come to think of it, Joel Cohen's piece was an opinion piece, not a news item. But JWB claims that he doesn't cite opinion pieces, b/c they're not fact-checked.

I guess the opinion of a PLO lawyer carries more weight with JWB than that of an Orthodox Jew.

At 4:27 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

>Come to think of it, Joel
>Cohen's piece was an opinion
>piece, not a news item. But JWB
>claims that he doesn't cite
>opinion pieces, b/c they're not

As usual:
1) you're misquoting me. Not at all what I said.
2) you didn't understand what I said.
3) I indicated that I was not going to retract a news article that was posted based on a puff opinion piece or start a new thread to that effect. In that case I posted the puff opinion piece to the original thread. I noted that no retraction was issued by the newspaper involved and that the puff opinion piece was based solely on an interview with the Rabbi that was taken as gospel. I noted a past controversy with this same Rabbi in which his story did not correspond to numerous others interviewed and to me did not sound credible. Yet in fairness, I still posted the puff opinon piece.

>I guess the opinion of a PLO
>lawyer carries more weight with
>JWB than that of an Orthodox

I'm more interested in the accuracy of what is said by prominant members of the Jewish community then how the the person who says it is dressed. Often I quote and post materials from peopled from different Jewish denominations that have vastly different politics and worldviews than my own.

But it is totally ridiculous, offensive and false to say that someone associated with the PLO carries more weight with me than some other group. The PLO are at best enablers/funders of terrorism and at worst are the terrorists. I support them in no way, shape or form.

The PLO is not relevant to this thread regardless and just another of your mindless red herrings rather than addressing the actual issues.

1) I've merely posted an article from Tikkun written by a Jewish lawyer who is active in the criminal justice in NY.
2) I noted, when advised, that his law firm is a registered agent of the PLO.
3) I solicited and posted a response from the Chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, Jewish Chaplain Gary Friedman regarding his opinion of the article (as he has more overall experience/knowledge in this area).

I think I've been more than fair, unlike (as usual) you.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger yeshivaguy said...

"I indicated that I was not going to retract a news article that was posted based on a puff opinion piece or start a new thread to that effect."

But you started a new thread based on Joel Cohen's opinion piece, which was my point.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that Cohen had no hard evidence, facts or statistics to validate his claims. He published his piece in Tikkun which is known for its anti-Orthodox slant. Cohen does not even know where the famous Otisville prison is located. That should be enough to give pause. I think that there is more than enough here to make JWB skeptical. Is JWB lowering the standards of the site?

At 2:40 PM, Blogger yeshivaguy said...

"Is JWB lowering the standards of the site?"

That would be impossible, as the standards consist of whatever JWB feels like posting.


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