Excerpts from 7/14/15 President Obama’s remarks at the 2015 NAACP Conference:
“The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s.
We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined.
In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America — half a million people in 1980. In 2015 there are 2.2 million. It has quadrupled since 1980. Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone.
Studies show that up to a certain point, tougher prosecutors and stiffer sentences for these violent offenders contributed to the decline in violent crime over the last few decades. Although the science also indicates that you get a point of diminishing returns. But it is important for us to recognize that violence in our communities is serious and that historically, in fact, the African American community oftentimes was under-policed rather than over-policed. Folks were very interested in containing the African American community so it couldn’t leave segregated areas, but within those areas there wasn’t enough police presence.
Over the last few decades, 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.
[United States] taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price. Every year, we spend $80 billion to keep folks incarcerated — $80 billion. Now, just to put that in perspective, for $80 billion, we could have universal preschool for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America. That’s what $80 billion buys. For $80 billion, we could double the salary of every high school teacher in America. For $80 billion, we could finance new roads and new bridges and new airports, job training programs, research and development. We’re about to get in a big budget debate in Washington — what I couldn’t do with $80 billion. For what we spend to keep everyone locked up for one year, we could eliminate tuition at every single one of our public colleges and universities.”
For the entire transcript: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/14/remarks-president-naacp-conference
President Obama remarks on “Black Lives Matter” is a social media movement
“ I want to drive home one point, and that is the relationship between race and the criminal justice system, because this is where sometimes politics intrudes.
“Black Lives Matter” is a social media movement that had tried to gel around Ferguson and the Eric Gardner case and some other cases that came up. And very rapidly, it was posited as being in opposition to the police. And sometimes, like any of these loose organizations, some people pop off and say dumb things. And on the other hand, though, it started being lifted up as these folks are opposed to police and they’re opposed to cops, and all lives matter. So the notion was somehow saying black lives matter was reverse racism, or suggesting that other people’s lives didn’t matter, police officers’ lives didn’t matter.
And whenever we get bogged down in that kind of discussion, we know where that goes. That’s just down the old track. So let me just suggest this. I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers, who are doing their job fairly, hurt. Everybody understands it’s a dangerous job.
I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase “Black lives matter” was not because they said they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter; rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.
I forget which French writer said there was a law that was passed that really was equal because both rich and poor were forbidden from stealing loaves of bread and sleeping under the bridge. That’s not a good definition of equality.
There is a specific concern as to whether African Americans are sometimes not treated in particular jurisdictions fairly or subject to excessive force more frequently. I think it’s important for those who are concerned about that to back it up with data, not anecdote; to not paint with a broad brush; to understand the overwhelming majority of law enforcement is doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing; to recognize that police officers have a really tough job and we’re sending them into really tough neighborhoods that sometimes are really dangerous, and they’ve got to make split-second decisions. And so we shouldn’t be too sanctimonious about situations that sometimes can be ambiguous.
But having said all that, we as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously. And one of the ways of avoiding the politics of this and losing the moment is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African American community is not just making this up, and it’s not just something being politicized; it’s real and there’s a history behind it. And we have to take it seriously. And it’s incumbent then on the activist to also take seriously the tough job that police have. And that’s one of the things that the post-Ferguson task force did. We had activists who were marching in Ferguson with police chiefs and law enforcement, sitting down and figuring this stuff out.
And just assuming good faith in other people — going to the issue of people being cynical — I think is important. I’ve rarely gotten much accomplished assuming the worst in other people. Usually it works better if I assume the best. So I just wanted to make that point.’
FACT SHEET: Enhancing the Fairness and Effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System
Today the President will lay out the case for meaningful juvenile and criminal justice reform that makes our system, fairer, smarter and more cost-effective while keeping the American people safe and secure. Across the political spectrum, there is a growing consensus to make reforms to the juvenile and criminal justice systems to ensure that criminal laws are enforced more fairly and efficiently. Unwarranted disparities and unduly harsh sentences undermine trust in the rule of law and offend the basic principles of fairness and justice. In an era of limited resources and diverse threats, there is a public safety imperative to devote the resources of the criminal justice system to the practices that are most successful at deterring crime and protecting the public.
This Administration has taken a series of actions to enhance fairness and efficiency at all phases of the criminal justice system and to better address the vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration that traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. Now, it is time for Congress to act. Meaningful sentencing reform, steps to reduce repeat offenders and reform of the juvenile justice system are crucial to improving public safety, reducing runaway incarceration costs and making our criminal justice system more fair.
* A Smarter and Fairer Approach to Charging and Sentencing
* Enhancing the Credibility and Accountability of the Justice System
* Focus on Effective Prisoner Reentry and the Cycle of Incarceration
* Support for State and Local Law Enforcement
* Working with State and Local Law Enforcement to Build Community Trust
* Working with State and Local Law Enforcement to Build Community Trust
” I just want to highlight this story because here you’ve got a situation where officers of the court, judges, probation officers, U.S. attorneys, pastors, community leaders, business leaders are all coming together saying, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve here? The problem we’re trying to solve is not just to keep on catching people and putting them back in jail. The problem we’re trying to solve here is giving people a foundation through which they can then become productive citizens. And the judge was mentioning how when she saw Dquan or some of the other folks who have gone through this program graduate, that’s the best thing that happens to her as a judge — because she understands that’s the goal.
The goal is to prevent crime. The goal is to make sure that folks are fairly punished when they break the law. But the ultimate goal is to make sure that folks are law-abiding, self-sufficient, good citizens. And everything we do should be designed towards that goal. (Applause.) And if we’re doing a good job there, then crime will go down and it will stay down. “
- Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Reform
- Criminal Justice Reform: Breaking the Cycle of Drug Use and Crime
- Reintegration of Ex-Offenders – Adult Program (RExO) website
- ERIC – Reintegration of Juvenile Offenders
“Supporting successful reentry is an essential part of the Justice Department’s mission to promote public safety — because by helping individuals return to productive, law-abiding lives, we can reduce crime across the country and make our neighborhoods better places to live.
“An important part of that task is preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry that too many returning citizens encounter.”
– Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
National Reentry Week Announcement
- National Reentry Resource Center
- Federal Interagency Reentry Council
- Reentering Your Community: A Handbook, Federal Bureau of Prisons
- Fair Chance Business Pledge
- Federal Interagency Reentry Council Fact Sheet
- Bureau of Prisons Reentry Fact Sheet
- 7/16/15 Remarks by President Obama after Visit at El Reno Federal Correctional Institution
- 10/17/15 President Obama’s Weekly Address: Working for Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform
- 10/22/15 Remarks by President Obama at White House Discussion on Criminal Justice with Law Enforcement Leaders
- 10/27/15 Remarks by the President at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference
- 10/31/15 Weekly Address: It’s Time To Reform our Criminal Justice System
- 11/2/15 FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated
- 11/2/15 Remarks by President Obama on Criminal Justice Reform
- 1/25/16 New Policies Addressing Bureau of Prisons’s Use of Restrictive Housing & Solitary Confinement
- 3/30/16 Remarks by the President on Commutations of Prison Sentences
- 3/31/16 White House Briefing on Life After Clemency
- 4/11/16 FACT SHEET: White House Launches the Fair Chance Business Pledge
- 4/23/16 Weekly Address: Building a Fairer and More Effective Criminal Justice System
- 6/24/16 FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Actions to Reduce Recidivism and Promote Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals
- 6/30/16 FACT SHEET: Launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative: Disrupting the Cycle of Incarceration
October 27, 2015
President Obama attends the 122nd Annual International Association of Chiefs Conference
McCormick Place West, Chicago, Illinois