Weekly Address: President Obama – It’s Time To Reform our Criminal Justice System

The President’s Weekly Address post is also an Open News Thread. Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.

From the White HouseWeekly Address

In this week’s address, the President spoke to the need for meaningful criminal justice reform in America. America faces a cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration that traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. The President believes that we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, and make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more effective. That’s why in recent weeks, he has been traveling the country and meeting with Americans who are working to improve the criminal justice system, from law enforcement officials working to lower the crime and incarceration rates, to former prisoners who are earning their second chance. And on Monday, the President will travel to Newark, New Jersey to highlight efforts to help Americans who’ve paid their debt to society rejoin their communities.

Transcript: Weekly Address: It’s Time To Reform our Criminal Justice System

Weekly Address, The White House, October 31, 2015

Hi, everybody. 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.

Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend. And have a safe and Happy Halloween.

Bolding added.




  1. In the News: Hillary Clinton spoke in Atlanta about criminal justice reform as one of a series of campaign events intended to solidify her support in the black community.

    Jamil Smith, TNR: Hillary Clinton’s Racial Justice Platform Is Finally Taking Shape

    America has a rather cavalier attitude towards the bodies its law enforcement throws away, whether into prisons or graves. And it is oddly selective, choosing to introduce some of its citizens to a structurally unjust criminal justice system, while largely lionizing and exonerating those sworn to protect and serve. We need look no further than the brutal symbolism, captured on video, of a black high school student in South Carolina being violently torn from her high school classroom desk by a white school cop this week. As forcefully as she was thrown by now-former officer Ben Fields, the girl was quite literally flipped into a criminal justice system that wasn’t built to protect her. It was the school-to-prison pipeline made manifest.

    This is the America that Hillary Clinton sought to address and presumably ameliorate when she took a stage in Atlanta on Friday in front of a legion of students from local historically black universities. After facing protesters who chanted and sang the Janelle Monae anthem “Hell You Talmbout” over the first part of her speech, the former secretary of state eventually advocated for a number of key racial justice reforms: A long-overdue overhaul of drug sentencing laws, legislation to prohibit racial profiling, and “banning the box,” a federal ban on employers asking applicants about their criminal history—a proven barrier to readjustment after prison. She also came out against the private sector’s encroachment of the prison system. “We need to end private prisons and detention centers once and for all,” Clinton said. “Protecting public safety is the core responsibility of the government, and it should never be outsourced.” […]

    Even though it comes weeks after her fellow Democratic candidates released their own proposals, it was meaningful to both see Clinton launch her platform and see protesters continue to push her further.

    The protesters were escorted out by Rep. John Lewis, who was in the audience. He has officially endorsed Secretary Clinton.

  2. In the news: your tax dollars at work in the Republican Congress

    On Friday, the State Department released the latest batch of Clinton’s emails, and one gem drew some notice on social media. In an April 3, 2012, email to aide Philippe Reines, Clinton asks: “Here’s my question: on this new berry can I get smiley faces?”

    I think that :) is actually a signal to Libyan terrorists to storm the embassy and burn it down. (insert eyeroll emoticon here)

  3. In the news: President Obama to send “advisors” to Syria

    The United States will deploy dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria from next month to advise opposition forces in their fight against Islamic State, a major policy shift for President Barack Obama and a step he has long resisted to avoid getting dragged into another war in the Middle East.

    The planned deployment, along with the U.S. decision this week to include Iran in diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, represents the biggest change in the United States’ Syria policy since it began a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets there in September 2014.

    Announcing the measure on Friday, the White House said the troops would be on a mission to “train, advise and assist” and would number fewer than 50. Spokesman Josh Earnest declined to give details about their exact role.

    The decision by Obama, deeply averse to committing troops to unpopular wars in the Middle East, would mark the first sustained U.S. troop presence in Syria and raise the risk of American casualties, although U.S. officials stressed the forces were not meant to engage in front-line combat.

    • Secretary of State John Kerry said he was the one requesting the special ops:

      We must defeat and destroy Daesh,” Kerry said, using a term that refers to the Islamic State. “It is not a decision to enter into Syria’s civil war. It is not an action or a choice focused on (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.” […]

      Kerry said he advocated for sending the U.S. troops to Syria. The Islamic State controls large swaths of eastern and northern Syria and northern and western Iraq. The de facto capital of the militant group is Raqqa, Syria.

      The decision on the commandos, Kerry said, is focused on “augmenting our ability to be able to more rapidly attack Daesh and to do a better job of eliminating Daesh and its influence in the region … to fight back against this evil.”

  4. In the News: Falling unemployment but stagnant wage growth

    Despite some encouraging recent job numbers — unemployment is falling, and an average of 198,000 jobs per month were added to payrolls over the last year — wage growth in the United States is still sluggish, according to experts analyzing Labor Department statistics released Friday.

    The September 2015 Employment Cost Index shows labor costs — meaning the total cost to employers of wages, salaries and benefits — rose 2 percent over the past 12 months.

    “It’s the trend that’s disappointing, more than anything else,” said Chad Stone, chief economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank. Stone said that wage growth has been consistently anemic throughout the economic recovery. […]

    There are about 6 million people in the U.S. who are “involuntary part-time workers,” meaning they would have full-time jobs given the choice, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are also about 95 million who are not in the labor force, meaning they neither gainfully employed nor seeking employment. The proportion of Americans still participating in the labor force is at its lowest point in nearly four decades.

    Those numbers point to “considerable slack in the labor market,” said Elise Gould, economist for the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute think tank, “and workers just don’t have the ability to bid up their wages.”

  5. In the news: Permanent snowfields permanently lost

    For the first time in recorded history, the ancient Beartooth snowfields near Yellowstone National Park melted.

    “That snow is the water bucket that is providing the liquid nourishment for our breadbasket, the grain fields of North America,” said Halfpenny. “It will never come back.”

    Permanent snowfields like the ones in the Beartooth Mountains fill an important environmental role: They regulate water flow year round by preserving winter snows late into the summer and providing a steady, dependable source of water. Their disappearance is part of a larger pattern of climate change that experts attribute to humans, and the permanent snowfields’ departure means the West will have another factor to consider when dealing with vanishing water supplies.[…]

    In the Pacific Northwest, snowfields are disappearing on Mt. Hood. In the Pacific, New Zealand is preparing for a loss of permanent snow. And in the Himalayas, snowfields have been steadily vanishing for years.

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