President Barack Obama condemned the criminal justice system for being “skewed by race and by wealth,” and called for a number of prison reforms in a speech given at the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia on July 14.
One of the most striking points he made, however, had to do with how pop culture discusses prisons:
“We should not be tolerating rape in prison,” he said. “And we should not be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable.”
USA Today reports:
The president said the system “is not as smart as it could be,” not as “fair as it should be.” He said African Americans and Latinos received harsher sentences for similar crimes committed by whites, and “about one in every 35 African-American men, and one out of every 88 Latino men, is serving time right now.”
Obama also said that “in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men, experience being treated differently under the law.”
The United States is spending $80 billion a year on incarceration, Obama noted, money that could be spent on any number of more valuable projects.
He urged lawmakers to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and to change policies surrounding solitary confinement. He also suggested restoring convicted criminals’ right to vote after they complete their sentences.
Obama has been actively pushing to raise awareness on issues plaguing state and federal prisons. Not only will he become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison next week, but he also officially granted clemency to 46 people convicted of nonviolent drug-related charges, bringing his total number of commutations to 89 — more than those of the last four presidents combined.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals,” he said in a video announcing the commutations. “If they’d been sentenced under today’s laws, all of them would have already served their time.”
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