10 Ways Obama Wants Our Unfair Criminal Justice System to Change
At the 106th annual NAACP convention in Philadelphia Tuesday evening, President Obama called for major changes to one of the country’s most pressing and complex issues: mass incarceration. Noting the importance of preventing crime by ensuring opportunities for all Americans, and of reducing recidivism by making jails more humane, Obama stressed that reform is in the hands of not only prosecutors, judges and police, but of our country as a whole. He asked the audience to have the courage to confront criminal justice reform step-by-step, and made some salient remarks about the inefficiency of a criminal justice system that does not make us safer, but that does come with high costs, financial and otherwise.
“Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” Obama said, noting that our criminal justice system “remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and our communities, and ultimately our nation.” The speech, which came on the heels of the announcement that he would commute the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, focused on three areas in which reform can happen: in the community, the courtroom and the cellblock.
Here are some of his most poignant remarks, reflecting the ways in which he wants this unjust system to change.
1. On the country’s enormous prison population:
“The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s. We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined.”
2. On when – and why – that population grew so huge:
“Over the last two decades we’ve also locked up more and more non-violent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before, and that is the real reason our prison population is so high. In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re low-level drug dealer or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life’s sentence.”
“For nonviolent drug crimes we need to lower long mandatory minimum sentences or get rid of them entirely.”