COMMENTARY

President Obama Laments The Poor Justice System

The president in his weekly address said, “Today, there are some 2.2 million people behind bars in America.  Millions more are on parole or probation.  All told, we spend 80 billion taxpayer dollars each year to keep people locked up.  Many are serving unnecessarily long sentences for non-violent crimes. Almost 60 percent have mental health problems.  Almost 70 percent were regular drug users.  And as a whole, our prison population is disproportionately black and Latino.”

Photo Credit: President Obama.
Photo Credit: President Obama.

He charged that the U.S. has more people languishing in prison than in any other developed country because it has criminal justice policies, including unfair sentencing laws that need to be reformed.

“We know that simply locking people up doesn’t make communities safer.  It doesn’t deal with the conditions that lead people to criminal activity in the first place, or to return to prison later,” he said.

The President also noted research has shown that people are likely to commit another crime after being released from prison having been jailed for a long time.

Furthermore, he said, “There’s evidence that suggest that a 10 percent increase in the high school graduation rate leads to a nearly 10 percent decrease in arrest rates.  A ten percent wage increase for men without a college degree lowers crime by as much as 20 percent.  And a growing body of research suggests that the longer people stay in jail, the more likely they are to commit another crime once they get out.”

He also argued that the 600,000 people that are released from prison yearly should be adequately prepared to make the necessary adjustment back to society.

He said his administration has been working to make the U.S. criminal justice system smarter, fairer, less expensive, and more effective.  Consequently, new measures will be put in place for strong prisoners’ re-entry programs.

“Disrupting the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails.  Addressing the disparities in the application of criminal justice, from arrest rates to sentencing to incarceration.  Investing in alternatives to prison, like drug courts and mental health treatment.  Helping those who have served their time get the support they need to become productive members of society,” The President announced some of the actions being taken to address the problem.

He also said that people from both sides of the political divide as well as all sectors of the society are coming together to deal with this major problem.

“Now we need a Congress that’s willing to send a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill to my desk.  This isn’t just about what makes economic and practical sense.  It’s about making sure that we live up to our ideals as a nation,” the President concluded.

Davy Desmond, Readers Bureau, Fellow

Edited by Jesus Chan

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