April V. Taylor
Speaking at the annual NAACP meeting, President Barack Obama laid out expansive plans to overhaul America’s criminal justice system, including reviewing solitary confinement and reducing mandatory minimum sentences related to non-violent drug offenses. Obama also specifically called on Congress to overhaul some of the laws that allow for tougher punishments and harsher sentences for men of color by the end of the year.
Obama specifically stated, “Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it. Around 1 million fathers are behind bars. What is that doing to our communities?”
Obama specifically focused on nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom he says simply do not belong in prison. He is hoping to give judges and prosecutors more discretion in sentencing by freeing them from being bound by mandatory minimums.
Regarding nonviolent drug offenders, Obama specifically stated, “We’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent 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 a 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 sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid. And by the way, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price.”
That price includes an estimated $80 million taxpayers spend on incarcerations per year, with 2.2 million Americans currently incarcerated. Earlier this week, Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders whose sentences were considered too long for the crimes they committed.
Obama also plans on focusing on the school to prison pipeline by investing more in early childhood education and after-school programs to help make kids less likely to break the law.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker recently introduced legislation along with Senator Rand Paul to keep nonviolent criminals out of jail. Booker states, “Our nation has not reached its full potential, it has not elevated those ideals of freedom and liberty if we cannot address this problem.”
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced legislation in the House that promotes treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration for those facing drug charges. Sensenbrenner states, “We’re spending more, getting less, and destroying communities in the process.”