Obama Speaks Out on Criminal Justice Reform

Over the Halloween weekend President Obama used his weekly address to speak out on criminal justice reform. Over the last few years, conservative (and libertarian) members of the GOP have led the way on pushing for criminal justice, and recently President Obama and other Democrats have grabbed on to their coattails in an effort to win a few more votes. (Check out the GOP efforts on criminal justice reform here, here, here and here.) The President has made criminal justice reform an important part of his administration’s last year in office and his weekly address touches on that.

I believe we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. I believe we can address the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration. And I believe we can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society. 

That’s why over the course of this year, I’ve been talking to folks around the country about reforming our criminal justice system to make it smarter, fairer, and more effective. 

Today, there are 2.2 million people behind bars in America and millions more on parole or probation. Every year, we spend $80 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep people incarcerated. Many are non-violent offenders serving unnecessarily long sentences. 

I believe we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. I believe we can address the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration. And I believe we can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society.

That’s why over the course of this year, I’ve been talking to folks around the country about reforming our criminal justice system to make it smarter, fairer, and more effective.

In February, I sat down in the Oval Office with police officers from around the country. In the spring, I met with police officers and young people in Camden, New Jersey, where they’re using community policing and data to drive down crime. Over the summer, I visited a prison in Oklahoma to talk with inmates and corrections officers about rehabilitating prisoners, and preventing more people from ending up there in the first place. Two weeks ago, I visited West Virginia to meet with families battling prescription drug and heroin abuse, as well as people who are working on new solutions for treatment and rehabilitation. Last week, I traveled to Chicago to thank police chiefs from across the country for all that their officers do to protect Americans, to make sure they’ve got the resources to get the job done, and to call for commonsense gun safety reforms that would make officers and their communities safer.

And we know that having millions of people in the criminal justice system, without any ability to find a job after release, is unsustainable. It’s bad for communities and it’s bad for our economy.

So on Monday, I’ll travel to Newark, New Jersey to highlight efforts to help Americans who’ve paid their debt to society reintegrate back into their communities. Everyone has a role to play, from businesses that are hiring ex-offenders to philanthropies that are supporting education and training programs. And I’ll keep working with people in both parties to get criminal justice reform bills to my desk, including a bipartisan bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders and reward prisoners with shorter sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to commit a repeat offense.

There’s a reason that good people across the country are coming together to reform our criminal justice system. Because it’s not about politics. It’s about whether we as a nation live up to our founding ideal of liberty and justice for all. And working together, we can make sure that we do.