Saturday, July 11, 2015

Obama slated for 1st presidential visit to a federal prison as he pushes criminal justice reform


Cedric Richmond 2.jpg
Rep. Cedric Richmond is part of a bi-partisan group of lawmakes working on criminal reform legislation. (U.S. House of Representatives)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama Thursday (July 16) is scheduled to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison.
Obama plans to visit the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, just outside Oklahoma City. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the president "will meet with law enforcement officials and inmates and conduct an interview for a Vice (network) documentary that will air in the fall about the realities of our criminal justice system."
On Tuesday, he's also expected to push for criminal justice reform during a Philadelphia speech at the NAACP's 106th national convention.
"While there, the president will outline the unfairness in much of our criminal justice system, highlight bipartisan ideas for reform, and lay out his own ideas to make our justice system fairer, smarter, and more cost-effective while keeping the American people safe and secure," Earnest said.
 The New York Times reported that Obama is preparing to commute the sentences of dozens of non-violent drug offenders. You can read the Times story here.
A move to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders has generated rare bipartisan support. In the Senate, Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky a GOP presidential contender, have teamed with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey on criminal justice reform bills.
Lee and Durbin introduced a bill to give federal judges more discretion in sentencing non-violent offenders, while Booker and Paul have combined on a bill to make it easier for juveniles to expunge convictions for non-violent crimes, lift the ban on food stamps for low-level drug offenders and ban solitary confinement for children in most cases.
In the House, Democrats Reps. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans and Hakeem Jeffries, of New York have joined with Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina on a bill to require federal prisons to use risk assessment tools to reduce recidivism rates. Prisoners successfully participating in and/or completing programs designed to improve their prospects after prison – such as holding a prison job, participating in educational courses, participating in faith-based services and courses, or delivering programs or faith-based services and courses to other prisoners, can earn low risk status and become eligible for halfway houses or home confinement with use of monitoring devices.
Inmates convicted of child abuse, terrorism, and violent felonies would not be eligible for the program.
 "Our criminal justice system is in serious need of reform in many areas," Richmond said when introducing the bill in February. "One of those areas is our prison and post-release supervision system. We need a better approach to incarceration that uses effective strategies to reduce recidivism. Ensuring that people get the right programs and activities while in prison is crucial to ensuring they are prepared to succeed after their release."
Lee, the conservative Utah senator, said long sentences for non-violent offenders do not make sense.
"Our current scheme of mandatory minimum sentences is irrational and wasteful," Lee said.  "By targeting particularly egregious mandatory minimums and returning discretion to federal judges in an incremental manner, the Smarter Sentencing Act takes an important step forward in reducing the financial and human cost of outdated and imprudent sentencing polices."

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