I firmly believe that at some point during his second administration President Obama is going to address the issue of mass incarceration in America. What I fear is that he is going to wait so long, and ultimately do so with such caution, as to minimize his potential impact.
I’ll be listening to his State of the Union tonight, hoping against hope that he says something, and says something bold. He’s made clear he has other priorities — the economy, immigration, climate change and now gun violence — but what a difference it would make for him to speak to this issue when he addresses the nation.
There’s no question he gets it. Barack Obama was a strong proponent of criminal justice reform as a state legislator. He spoke about it when he ran for president the first time. His administration worked hard during his first years in office to eliminate the racially disproportionate disparity in federal sanctions for crack and powder cocaine, winning a bipartisan compromise to at least reduce the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. And he made clear in a Time magazine interview just two months ago that he views over-incarceration for non-violent offenses as a real problem:
Well, I don’t think it’s any secret that we have one of the two or three highest incarceration rates in the world, per capita. I tend to be pretty conservative, pretty law and order, when it comes to violent crime. My attitude is, is that when you rape, murder, assault somebody, that you’ve made a choice; the society has every right to not only make sure you pay for that crime, but in some cases to disable you from continuing to engage in violent behavior.
But there’s a big chunk of that prison population, a great huge chunk of our criminal justice system that is involved in nonviolent crimes. And it is having a disabling effect on communities. Obviously, inner city communities are most obvious, but when you go into rural communities, you see a similar impact. You have entire populations that are rendered incapable of getting a legitimate job because of a prison record. And it gobbles up a huge amount of resources. If you look at state budgets, part of the reason that tuition has been rising in public universities across the country is because more and more resources were going into paying for prisons, and that left less money to provide to colleges and universities.
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.