Weekly Address: President Obama – Working for Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform

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 highlighted the problems in our criminal justice system. Our country faces a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration that traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. There are 2.2 million people behind bars in America today, compared to 500,000 just 30 years ago. This topic isn’t new – the President has talked about the unfairness of much of the criminal justice system since his time in the Senate. And while we’ve taken steps to address this issue, members of both parties agree that we can do more. Over the next few weeks, the President will travel the country and meet with Americans who are working to fix 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 he promised to continue to work with Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform that makes the system cost-effective, fairer, and smarter, while enhancing the ability of law enforcement to keep our communities safe.

THE PRESIDENT: “Justice has never been easy to achieve, but it’s always been worth fighting for.”

Transcript: WEEKLY ADDRESS: Working for Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address, The White House, October 17, 2015

Hi, everybody. Thirty years ago, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America. Today, there are 2.2 million. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Every year, we spend $80 billion to keep people locked up.

Now, many of the folks in prison absolutely belong there – our streets are safer thanks to the brave police officers and dedicated prosecutors who put violent criminals behind bars. But over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more non-violent offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. That’s the real reason our prison population is so high.

Ever since I was a Senator, I’ve talked about how, in too many cases, our criminal justice system is a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. And we’ve taken steps to address it. We invested in our schools to give at-risk young people a better shot to succeed. I signed a bill reducing the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. I’ve commuted the sentences of dozens of people sentenced under old drug laws we now recognize were unfair. The Department of Justice has gotten “Smart on Crime,” refocusing efforts on the worst offenders, and pursuing mandatory minimum sentences less frequently.

Still, much of our criminal justice system remains unfair. In recent years, more of our eyes have been opened to this truth. We can’t close them anymore. And good people, of all political persuasions, are eager to do something about it.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll travel the country to highlight some of the Americans who are doing their part to fix our criminal justice system. I’ll visit a community battling prescription drug and heroin abuse. I’ll speak with leaders from law enforcement who are determined to lower the crime rate and the incarceration rate, and with police chiefs who have dedicated their careers to keeping our streets and officers safe. I’ll meet with former prisoners who are earning their second chance.

And I’ll keep working with lawmakers from both parties who are determined to get criminal justice reform bills to my desk. Earlier this month, Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate to introduce such a bill – one 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 similar bill working its way through the House, and I’m encouraged by these kinds of bipartisan efforts. This is progress – not liberal ideas or conservative ideas, but common-sense solutions to the challenges we face.

From the halls of Congress to the classrooms in our schools, we pledge allegiance to one nation under God with liberty, and justice, for all. Justice means that every child deserves a chance to grow up safe and secure, without the threat of violence. Justice means that the punishment should fit the crime. And justice means allowing our fellow Americans who have made mistakes to pay their debt to society, and re-join their community as active, rehabilitated citizens.

Justice has never been easy to achieve, but it’s always been worth fighting for. And it’s something I’ll keep fighting for as long as I serve as your president.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Bolding added.




  1. President Obama:

    Justice means that every child deserves a chance to grow up safe and secure, without the threat of violence. Justice means that the punishment should fit the crime. And justice means allowing our fellow Americans who have made mistakes to pay their debt to society, and re-join their community as active, rehabilitated citizens.

    That also should include ending the disenfranchisement of felons who have served their time. One mistake should not end forever a person’s right to participate fully in our democracy. We need national right-to-vote legislation, or a constitutional amendment, to guarantee that oppressive state governments cannot take away what Lyndon B. Johnson called “this most sacred right”.

      • The biggest issue is that voting is too important to be left to the states where they have elevated disenfranchisement to an art form.

        I remember how stunned I was to find out that there is no constitutional right to vote. There are some statutes and a general “sense” that voting should be protected but nothing that enshrines that right … an incredible oversight for a democracy. Maybe it goes back to citizens not getting the actual vote, we vote for “electors” and the electoral college elects the president. We initially were not allowed to directly elect Senators, making it a virtual House of Lords with veto power over the People’s House.

        I hope more is said in the debates about Voting Rights … not because I think our candidates differ much on the need to address the issue but because the people watching the debates need to realize how our democracy is hanging by a thread and the scissors are in the hands of the extremist state governments in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio … Obama 2008 states that we need to win in 2016.

  2. The Department of Justice is going after right-wing domestic terrorists:

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has created a new post to fight domestic terrorism. The new position will coordinate investigations into a phenomena that has killed more Americans than foreign terrorism since 9/11.

    The DOJ did not say who would take the new role but said that the position’s responsibilities include assisting federal prosecutors working on domestic terrorism cases. […]

    “We’ve seen lone actor attacks about every 33 days, mostly white supremacist or anti-government extremists,” Heidi Beirich of SPLC told NBC News. “Homegrown violent extremists can be motivated by any viewpoint on the full spectrum of hate — anti-government views, racism, bigotry, anarchy and other despicable beliefs. When it comes to hate and intolerance, no single ideology governs.”

    Assistant Attorney General John Carlin announced the position in a speech at George Washington University last week:

    The new domestic terrorism counsel will serve “as our main point of contact for U.S. attorneys working on domestic terrorism matters,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said during an event at George Washington University, according to prepared remarks.

    The new lawyer will help “identify trends to help shape our strategy, and to analyze legal gaps or enhancements required to ensure we can combat these threats,” Carlin added, by providing “insights from cases and trends from around the country.” Carlin is the head of the Justice Department’s national security division. […]

    Creation of the role comes after a string of deadly shootings in cities across the country, which have reignited concerns about domestic extremism from adherents of radical forms of Islam and other ideologies. […]

    “Looking back over the past few years, it is clear that domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists remain a real and present danger to the United States,” he said. “We recognize that, over the past few years, more people have died in this country in attacks by domestic extremists than in attacks associated with international terrorist groups.”

  3. Hillary Clinton OpEd in Al.com regarding closing DMV locations needed for voter id:

    “… we owe it to future generations to fight back against attacks on voting.  We also owe it to them to make sure our voting system works for a modern America.  We need to meet this moment with the bravery and determination of those who came before us.  It’s time for leaders in every party, at every level of government, to be on the right side of history.  And once again, the movement can start right here in Alabama.”


    • It’s going to take one more vote on the Supreme Court. Or an epiphany by one of the Opus Dei Catholics considering that their spiritual leader is anti-death penalty.

      The pro-death penalty advocates on the court are getting a bit unhinged with their railings against those they call “death penalty abolitionists”. “Justice” Alito was whining that pretty soon there will be no way to execute people!!!!! I would hope that they would rule that “cruel” includes being put to death and thus unconstitutional, but I will settle for the pharmaceutical industry continuing to ban the selling of certain drugs to the states which still take part in this barbaric process.

  4. Mississippi Burn … Al Jazeera reports on the state of justice there:

    Mississippi is one of just seven states in the U.S. that doesn’t provide funding to cover the costs of public defense across its 82 counties. Many indigent defendants throughout the state rely instead on private attorneys paid a flat-fee by the counties to take cases when assigned to them by local courts.

    The Mississippi Supreme Court, back in 1995, declared that the quality of representation for poor defendants “goes to the very heart of how we as a civilized society assure equal justice to rich and poor alike.” Unfortunately, 20 years later, some counties in Mississippi are spending less than $2 per capita on indigent defense. To make matters worse for poor defendants, there is no state oversight of this patchwork system. Circuit court judges are the highest legal officers in the counties, and the only check on their judgement is the ballot box.

    At least one of these judges, Marcus D. Gordon, has admitted to not assigning public defenders until after indictment—when formal charges are filed against a defendant. Gordon has claimed the policy is necessary because of scarce resources. But in a state that sets no time-limit on how long someone can be held in jail before indictment, the result is that poor defendants who can’t afford bail routinely end up in jail for months without ever speaking to a lawyer.

    The interview is eye opening. This judge assumes that anyone accused of a crime is a criminal and being forced to stay in jail is simply “sh*t happens”.

    But what if months pass between the arrest and the time of indictment?

    Lady, people charged with crimes, they are criminals. And they say what meets their purpose. Now they told you they had requested an attorney. They had not requested an attorney in 98 percent of the cases. You never hear of that. I never hear of that.

    I don’t know whether they have requested an attorney or not. They would not be entitled to an attorney until indictment, as a policy of this district by myself and the other circuit judge. It would be an additional burden on trial attorneys to go out there and investigate every single case.

    But these people are spending months before speaking to counsel.

    Well that may be true. That’s the hardship of the criminal system.

    Are their rights being violated?

    Lady, the criminal system is a system of criminals. Sure, their rights are violated. But not all rights are violated that you’re calling violation.

    This is a stunning admission by someone who is supposed to care about justice:

    You do acknowledge that because of this policy, some prisoners’ rights are being violated?

    I do not acknowledge that. I do know that there are innocent people, who are charged and go through the system who are not guilty, in the penitentiary. But there is nothing I can do about that.

    I hope that jurisdictions like this are being investigated. Get charged with a crime, can’t afford an attorney? Tough, you are a criminal in the eyes of this judge and don’t deserve any better.

Comments are closed.