Next On White House Agenda: Prison Sentencing Reform

| by Ethan Brown

President Barack Obama will reportedly ask Congress to create and approve legislation to change the nation’s current system of prison sentences for non-violent crimes, such as drug possession.

According to a White House official, Obama will travel to Philadelphia to speak at the NAACP’s annual conference about prison sentences that “undermine trust in our legal system.”

The speech comes just one day after Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people, some of which are currently serving life sentences in federal prison after being convicted of drug crimes.

“I believe, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances. I believe these folks deserve their second chance,” the President said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

Later this week, on July 16, Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he goes to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, The Hill reported.

Last year the Obama administration issued a call for inmates to seek clemency, with more than 30,000 having applied thus far. The clemency order would allow those convicted on non-violent crimes and have served at least 10 years in prison to ask for early release if they can prove that they would have received a lesser punishment for the crime they committed under the current statue, according to The Hill.

Obama’s efforts may be specifically geared towards minority groups, as he has stated his belief that young African-American men are targeted based on their race. In March, Obama sat down for an interview with David Simon, the creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” a series that focuses on law enforcement and the African-American community in Baltimore, Maryland. During the interview, Obama criticized “the massive trend towards incarceration, even of non-violent drug offenders.”

The idea to reform the sentencing system has gained ground among both political parties.

“It’s a time when conservatives and liberals and libertarians and lots of different people on the political spectrum come together in order to focus attention on excessive sentences, the costs and the like, and the need to correct some of those excesses,” Neil Eggleston, a member of the White House counsel, told the New York Times.

So far, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky have backed legislation that aims to reform prison sentencing laws.

This support is crucial, as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted that “any proposal that’s going to pass both houses of Congress will require bipartisan support.”

"Since Democrats have been steadfast supporters of trying to bring some important reforms to our criminal justice system," he said on Monday, "we welcome indications from some Republicans that they also believe that reforms are necessary."

Sources: The Hill (2), The New York Times 

Photo Credit: Global Panorama/WikiCommons, Dylan Oliphant/Wikipedia