Recently, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system.
Between 2014 and 2015, 13 inmates in solitary confinement could be considered juvenile. While this is a significant change within the prison system, this is just one of many steps the president has taken to reform the criminal justice system.
In July 2015, Obama visited the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in El Reno, Oklahoma becoming the first sitting president to ever visit a federal institution. He was accompanied by VICE as part of a special episode about the U.S. criminal justice system.
The interview involved the president and Shane Smith, founder of Vice. The first question he asked Obama was simply: “Why now?”
As his presidency comes to a close, Obama seems to be tackling more local issues such as those regarding the criminal justice system in the U.S. And it’s no secret that the system is a mess.
One’s financial situation is an important factor to consider when confronting the challenges surrounding incarceration. For some, nonviolent offenses leave them unable to pay their bail, and therefore they spend months or years against bars.
Once prisoners are freed, it becomes all but impossible to find work or to regain stability in their community. Those more fortunate usually tend to overlook this aspect of the process.
During his visit to Oklahoma, the president spoke with Smith about his time doing community organizing in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.
“The notion that you or I couldn’t have easily been drawn to that, that somehow we wouldn’t have fallen pretty to the temptations of the streets, I think, that doesn’t feel right to me. That doesn’t feel true,” said Obama.
Although the U.S. harbors only 5 percent of the world’s population, it holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Because of this, it’s neither realistic nor productive to think of all inmates as hardened criminals.
Perhaps one of the reasons Obama has chosen to address issues of the criminal justice system during this time is so that he can leave the public with two things to remember: first, the weight of this issue is at an all time high, and drastic measures need to be taken in order to create a more just system; and second, the system has become convoluted beyond repair — reflected in the fact that the most immediate change Obama can bring is only exposure.
Hopefully, Obama choosing to address this issue during his last leg of presidency will make it harder for the next president of the U.S. to ignore the adjustments that need to be made.
At this point, only rigorous efforts towards reform will be enough to evoke any change.