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'Crime & Consequence' Class in Boise Tackles Tough Criminal Justice Questions Through Jewish Religious Texts


In early 2018, Pew Research, reporting on new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, announced that the U.S. incarceration rate was at a two-decade low, with 2.2 million people behind bars. That's down from a high of 2.3 million people in 2008.

The numbers, up or down, are still staggeringly high. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world—"ironic," said Rabbi Mendel Lifshiz of Chabad Jewish Center, since values like liberty and justice are so close to Americans' hearts.

For six Tuesdays starting on Feb. 5, Lifshiz will conduct Crime & Consequence, a continuing legal education class that tackles the tough questions of the American criminal justice system through the lens of the Torah.

"What the course addresses are timeless questions that have become more relevant in our society today," Lifshiz said. "We have more people behind bars than ever before, and yet we have less results. We're not rehabilitating people, we're not reducing crime, and the question is, 'Are we doing this right?'"

Additional topics include the death penalty, due process, rehabilitation, criminal records and the prevention of crime. Each unit will outline the current state of affairs with the latest data and legal precedents, then break down the issue using concepts pulled from some of the oldest written ethical texts in the western world.

A lot of the topics touch Idaho directly. In this week's issue of Boise Weekly, readers will meet a transgender woman currently serving time whose right to a medically necessary gender confirmation surgery has recently been upheld in the courts. Meanwhile, the Idaho Department of Corrections is fighting a lawsuit alleging that the state's penal authority has been opaque regarding the drugs it uses for lethal injections. Questions about whether prison is a place of punishment, rehabilitation or a place to put those who make the streets unsafe; or about the role of the death penalty will be discussed at length.

"We ask the harshest questions possible to get the best answers possible," Lifshiz said.

The course will be taught at the Chabad Jewish Center, with classes running from 7-9 p.m. The first class is free to attend, but the full course costs $79, and includes the textbook. It is accredited by the Idaho State Bar for continuing legal education.