Young Israel: President’s Support for ‘First Step Act’ Is a Step in the Right Direction

December 7, 2018

Reiterates Call for Jonathan Pollard to be Permitted to Travel to Israel.


The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) today praised President Trump for his support of the First Step Act, an important piece of bipartisan federal legislation that focuses on criminal justice reform, and urged other members of the faith community to do the same.

The First Step Act contains a number of key provisions, including easing mandatory minimum sentences under federal law, enabling inmates to get various degrees of credit for participating in rehabilitative and vocational programs which could hasten their release, bettering conditions in federal penitentiaries, and improving the current system of allowing inmates to be rewarded for good behavior by increasing the number of “good time credits” that they are permitted to accrue.

“With over 2,000,000 people in American prisons, including 181,000 in federal penitentiaries, we cannot ignore the need for sensible criminal justice reforms that aim to lower the recidivism rate and seek to ensure a smooth and successful reentry into society for non-violent offenders upon their release,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “The notion of giving people second chances has a strong basis in Judaism, and the concept of ‘teshuva’ and enabling people to repent for their wrongdoings plays a central role in our faith. By lending his support to the First Step Act, President Trump took a step in the right direction on this issue and demonstrated his commitment to blazing a path to reintegration for those who seek it.”

Weiss noted that there are people within the American Jewish community who are suffering tremendously as a result of unusually harsh sentences they received for engaging in non-violent offenses, such as Ronen Nahmani and Mordecai Samet, each of whom is a model prisoner, and that the First Step Act could ultimately prove beneficial to those individuals and their families.

In light of the focus on criminal justice reform and the ideas set forth in the First Step Act, the National Council of Young Israel reiterated its request that the United States allow Jonathan Pollard to return home to Israel. Pollard, who was released from prison in November 2015 following a disproportionate thirty-year sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the United States, has been prevented from traveling to Israel by the U.S. Justice Department, despite a formal request by the State of Israel to allow him to do so.

Pollard has been subjected to outrageous parole conditions due largely in part to an affidavit filed by former Director of Intelligence James Clapper, which falsely claimed that Pollard remains a security threat. Clapper’s claims have been resoundingly refuted by prominent members of the American intelligence community, including former National Security Advisor Bud McFarlane and former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini, each of whom submitted affidavits on Pollard’s behalf which unequivocally stated that he was by no means a security threat.

“As the White House seeks to improve the lives of so many through the advancement of comprehensive and compassionate criminal justice legislation, we urge President Trump to take steps to allow that benevolence to apply to Jonathan Pollard as well,” said Weiss. “After having served three decades in prison due to a highly disproportionate sentence, Jonathan Pollard deserves to have his outrageous parole provisions relaxed and be permitted to travel to Israel.”