Obama on Reform

President Obama addresses criminal justice reform in detail today in a Harvard Law Review commentary, “The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform” (130 Harv. L. Rev. 811). The President says: “We simply cannot afford to spend $80 billion annually on incarceration, to write off the 70 million Americans – that’s almost one in three adults – with a criminal record, to release 600,000 inmates each year without a better program to reintegrate them into society, or to ignore the humanity of 2.2 million men and women currently incarcerated in the United States…”

The commentary addresses the issue of criminal justice reform in 4 parts:

  • Part I details the current criminal justice landscape and emphasizes the urgent need for reform. focussing on the seventy million Americans — almost one in three adults — with some form of criminal record.
  • Part II covers the Obama administration efforts, including changes to federal charging policies and practices, the administration of federal prisons, and federal policies relating to reentry.
  • Part III details the approaches that Presidents can take to promote change at the state and local level, recognizing that the state and local justice systems have a far broader and more pervasive impact than the federal justice system.
  • Part IV discusses reforms that Obama feels are supported by broad consensus and could be completed in the near term. These include
    • passing bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation in Congress,
    • adopting commonsense measures to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are a threat to others or themselves,
    • finding better ways to address the opioid abuse,
    • implementing critical reforms to forensic science,
    • improving criminal justice data, and
    • using technology to enhance trust in and the effectiveness of law enforcement.
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