I wrote to the White House about a month ago to thank President Obama for his efforts to lower incarceration rates through sentencing reform, reintegration programs and other “upstream” measures. I thought I would share the response I received. Too bad the White House seal and other graphics don’t show up:
Thank you for writing, and for sharing your son’s story. Today, our criminal justice system holds approximately 2.2 million Americans behind bars, at a cost to taxpayers of $80 billion per year. Many of these individuals are violent criminals who are off the streets thanks to hard‑working police officers and prosecutors, but many others who are incarcerated are non‑violent offenders whose punishments do not always fit their crimes. We have to make sure that our justice system is fair and effective and is doing what it can to make individuals, their families, and their communities stronger.
My Administration has taken concrete steps to enhance public safety while also making our system more just. By channeling resources into early childhood education and issuing discipline guidance to our schools, we are creating pathways to success instead of pipelines to prison. Through initiatives like “My Brother’s Keeper,” we are promoting reforms to the juvenile justice system and reaching young people before they’re locked into a cycle from which they cannot recover. Additionally, the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” and “Justice Reinvestment” initiatives aim to address the unnecessary use of mandatory minimums in the Federal system and work with states to lower their incarceration numbers and reinvest in crime prevention services.
For currently incarcerated individuals, my Administration has supported critical improvements to our prison system that target overcrowding, solitary confinement, gang activity, and sexual assault. We are promoting rehabilitation programs that have been proven to decrease the likelihood of a repeat offense, and we are expanding reintegration programs—such as those supported by the Second Chance Act—that work with government agencies and non‑profit organizations to help provide access to employment, education, housing, and health care for the nearly 600,000 inmates released annually. In addition, I directed the Office of Personnel Management to “ban the box” on most Federal job applications in order to end the practice of disqualifying people simply because of a mistake they made in their past.
While my Administration remains committed to taking action to improve all phases of the criminal justice system, it is time for Congress to act. Meaningful sentencing reform and juvenile justice reform legislation would make a crucial contribution to improving public safety, reducing runaway incarceration costs, and making our criminal justice system fairer. There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to achieve these goals, and I am encouraged that the Senate and House will continue to work cooperatively to get a bill to my desk.
Thank you again for writing. Throughout my Presidency and beyond it, I will continue working to keep our communities safe and make our justice system fair. To learn more about these efforts, visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/Issues/Civil‑Rights/Justice.
Seeing how Vince struggles with the after effects of being imprisoned, it is comforting to know that lawmakers on both sides agree the system must change—drastically, and now—and that my president cares enough about this to take it on even after he leaves office. I believe this is the only issue Republicans and Democrats agree on and are working on together nowadays, which tells you a lot about how messed up the system is.