President Barack Obama called for reform of the criminal justice system during his State of the Union address, acknowledging that both crime and incarceration rates have been steadily decreasing. President Obama’s comments set him apart from one of his Democratic predecessor in the White House.
“At a time when the crime and incarceration rates are coming down together for the first time in 40 years, Democrats and Republicans are coming together around reforms that will reduce crime, address disparities, build trust in our communities and reduce the staggering costs or our prison system—all at the same time,” President Obama said.
Although he was happy with President Obama addressing the issue, Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides alternatives to incarceration, said the President’s comments were relatively modest.
“There were not any calls for major new initiatives,” Mauer said. He added, however, that Attorney General Eric Holder has been the point man in the administration who has taken the lead in calling for sentencing reform. Holder also has addressed racial disparities within the criminal justice system.
President Obama, however, deserved praise for acknowledging the drop in both the crime rate and the incarceration rate, Mauer said.
Obama’s position was much different from President Bill Clinton’s, who said during his 1994 State of Union address that he wanted “Three Strikes You’re Out Laws,” which contributed to the dramatic rise in the nation’s prison population.
The prison population has gone up and down over the last five years. Currently, there are 2.2 million people incarcerated in state and federal prisons and county jails.
According to the Sentencing Project, black men have a one in three chance of being sentenced to prison, compared to white men, who have a one in six chance of being sent to prison.