3 Days Left in Obama's Presidency
Memory 8: President Obama Tackles Criminal Justice Reform
In 2015 President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. He visited El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma. There, he sat and spoke with male inmates who shared their stories and experiences of being incarcerated at the federal institution.
Over 2.2 million people are incarcerated in America, which is far greater than any other country. The United States accounts for only five percent of the world’s population but accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Keeping this gross number of people incarcerated costs U.S. taxpayers $80 billion per year.
Also important to note, most individuals in jails and prisons are serving time for nonviolent drug-related offenses. Moreover, roughly 60 percent of our prisoners suffer from mental illness or drug addiction. This burden placed on the criminal justice system to deal with mental health and drug abuse on this scale was addressed when President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law.
There is no doubt that our criminal justice system needs fixing. We have unfair sentencing laws that have made it difficult to reform and greatly impacts communities of color. Specifically, those incarcerated are disproportionately Black and Latino. The system’s sentencing policies have plagued communities of color for generations. Those affected have not had a fair opportunity to reenter society and contribute by entering the workforce.
The Obama Administration took many measures by reviewing and providing clemency to commute more than 200 sentences of nonviolent drug offenders who were sentenced unfairly. President Obama also provided tools and programs for those reentering society to help acclimate them before becoming a repeat offender and attempted to improve relations with law enforcement and those in their communities to reinstate trust and integrity.
Unfortunately, the number of families who will be impacted long term will remain high if we do not adopt a system that is fair in sentencing. Equally important to sentence reform is providing assistance to individuals reentering society and equipping them with tools to make better decisions. Having skills and opportunities that will allow them to provide for themselves and their families will lessen recidivism rates.
Therefore, I would encourage everyone to read the most recent commentary written by President Obama in the Harvard Law Review titled The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform, which discusses further actions and progress we can make to improve our criminal justice system. I commend President Obama’s efforts and pushing those of us who might not have viewed this as a priority - to implore our Members of Congress to pass additional legislation in hopes of better sentencing and rehabilitation programs for individuals who would like to live a better and successful life in society.