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Obama's Criminal Justice Reform

by Danae Aicher, National Director of Communications, Mocha Moms, Inc.


We told you last week just how important the black woman’s vote is right now. It’s the new critical voting bloc, which means we can wield a lot of power in next year’s Presidential election. How will we use it? Will we insist on a change in policing practices that all too often mean the lives of our children? Will we use the power to push for equity in pay?


We will use Mocha Monday (as well as social media) to keep you informed about what’s going on and the issues. Let’s take a look this week at what President Obama is doing on criminal justice reform. Is it enough? You tell us!

Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 27th, President Barack Obama will address the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the 122nd Annual IACP Conference and Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. The event is the largest gathering of law enforcement leaders in the world with more than 14,000 public safety professionals and 700 exhibiting companies. This past week, he joined Bill Keller, Editor-in-Chief of The Marshall Project, for a conversation on criminal justice reform with US Attorney John Walsh from Colorado and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. Take a look at what the President had to say! The focus of the discussion was how to make America’s law enforcement and correctional practices more just and effective, and came as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a markup on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

It’s all part of the President’s effort over the next few weeks to meet 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.  

Since his time in the U.S. Senate, the President has worked to improve the criminal justice system. His Administration has worked to invest in schools to give at-risk young people a better shot to succeed.  He signed a bill to significantly reduce the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  He has commuted the sentences of dozens of people sentenced under old drug laws we now recognize were too harsh. And, the Department of Justice has gotten “Smart on Crime,” refocusing efforts on the worst offenders, and pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders less frequently. 

Read highlights of the Obama Administration’s criminal justice efforts below.

  • In August 2010, the President signed the Fair Sentencing Act to significantly reduce the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required to trigger certain penalties in the federal system, including the imposition of rigid mandatory minimum sentences.
  • In January 2011, the Department of Justice established the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to  coordinate reentry efforts and advance reentry policies across more than twenty federal agencies.  Among other achievements, through the Council, the Administration has announced EEOC Guidance on the Use of Criminal Records in Employment Decisions, a Department of Labor directive to Federal Contractors and Subcontractors on their obligations regarding the use of criminal records as an employment screen, a Department of Housing letter to Public Housing Executive Directors and numerous myth-busters to aid with successful reentry.
  • In August 2013, the Department of Justice announced its “Smart on Crime Initiative” to ensure that federal laws are enforced more fairly and efficiently by concentrating efforts on the most serious crimes, modifying charging policies on mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal low-level drug-related offenses, and improving diversion and re-entry policies.
  • In January 2014, the Departments of Education and Justice issued School Discipline Guidance to ensure that our schools have the support they need to provide pathways to success rather than pipelines to the criminal justice system.
  • In September 2014, the Department of Justice launched the Violence Reduction Network, a national comprehensive approach to reduce violent crime by providing intensive training and cutting-edge technical assistance to help communities collaboratively tackle persistent challenges caused by violent crime.  After initially launching with five cities, the VRN was doubled this year to ten cities. Like the five original sites, the five recently added to the VRN experience violent crime at a rate above the national average and have demonstrated a commitment to tackling the problem and a readiness to partner with DOJ on new and innovative strategies.
  • In December 2014, the Departments of Education and Justice issued guidance to improve Correctional Education in Juvenile Justice Facilities. 
  • In December 2014, the Department of Justice Issued updated Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, or Gender Identity that superseded the Department’s 2003 guidance and broadened prohibitions against profiling by expanding the protected characteristics, covering more law enforcement activity and including state and local law enforcement working with federal task forces.
  • In December 2014, the President signed an Executive Order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Task Force is part of the Administration's efforts to strengthen trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and protect, while also enhancing public safety.  In March 2015, the Task Force released a report with nearly 60 concrete recommendations, based around six pillars: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety.  Since that time, the Administration has made changes at the federal level in response to the report, awarded new grants tied to specific recommendations, and been engaged with law enforcement agencies across the country on ways to put the Task Force’s report into practice.      
  • After advocating for the expanded use of body cameras in a We The People Response in September 2014, the White House announced a $263 million initiative to expand funding and training to law enforcement agencies to advance community policing initiatives in December 2014.  The proposal includes a $75 million investment over three years that could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras.  In May 2015, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) announced a $20 million solicitation to help law enforcement agencies purchase body-worn cameras and the Office of Justice Programs released an on-line toolkit to help communities implement body-worn camera programs.
  • In January 2015, to address concerns about the appearance of militarized law enforcement agencies, the President signed an Executive Order creating the Federal Equipment Working Group.  In May 2015, the President accepted the Working Group's recommendations to prohibit the use of federal resources toward the acquisition of certain types of equipment and placed policy, training and accountability requirements around the acquisition of certain other pieces of equipment.  These requirements ensure that law enforcement agencies have the equipment they need and that the communities they serve can trust the equipment.
  • In February 2015, the President convened a bipartisan and bicameral group of members of Congress to discuss criminal justice reform legislation and he urged them to come together on a bill.  Many of the senators who introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 were at that meeting, and have answered the President’s call.
  • In May 2015, the White House launched the Police Data Initiative to encourage law enforcement agencies around the country to publicly release data that they had not previously released concerning stops and searches, uses of force, officer involved shootings, assaults on officers, citations, complaints and other actions.  As of October 2015, more than 25 law enforcement agencies have agreed to participate.
  • In July 2015, the Council of Economic Advisers released a report on the economic costs of youth disadvantage and high-return opportunities for change, examining the disparities in education, exposure to the criminal justice system, and employment that persist between young men of color and other Americans.
  • In July 2015, the Department of the Treasury, Council of Economic Advisors and Department of Labor released a report on Occupational Licensing which presented evidence that licensing requirements raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities in particular for the formerly incarcerated and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across State lines.
  • In July 2015, at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia, the President addressed problems with our criminal justice system, highlighted bipartisan ideas for reform, and laid out his own ideas to make our justice system fairer, smarter, and more cost-effective while keeping the American people safe and secure.  Included in the President’s remarks was an announcement that he had asked the Department of Justice to conduct thorough review of solitary confinement at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • In July 2015, the Department of Education launched a Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals.
  • In July 2015, the President visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution – marking the first visit by a sitting President to a federal prison.
  • The White House has hosted three different Champions of Change events to highlight individuals doing notable work on criminal justice issues:  Children of Incarcerated Parents (June 2013); Re-Entry and Employment (June 2014); and Officer/Youth Relations (October 2015).
  • The President’s budget has provided significant support to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division which has conducted more investigations of and entered into more consent agreements with law enforcement agencies to ensure constitutional policing than any prior administration.
  • Under this Administration, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services has conducted a number of reviews of law enforcement agencies through its Collaborative Reform Initiative.  This rigorous voluntary process helps law enforcement agencies develop long-term strategies for sustainable, positive change through community policing principles.
  • So far, the President has commuted the sentences of 89 prisoners who were convicted many years or decades ago – nearly all of whom would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today.




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