US criminal justice reform: ‘So much work to be done… but moving in the right direction’

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05 Jan 2017

Outgoing US President Barack Obama uses World Prison Brief data in an article reflecting on his reform record, and on the key challenges remaining

In ‘The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform’ (Commentary, Harvard Law Review, 5 January 2017: 130 Harv L Rev 811), Barack Obama charts a lifetime commitment to criminal justice reform, from his early work as a community organizer through to signing legislation to reform the sentencing laws underlying America’s failed experiment with mass incarceration. Using statistics sourced from ICPR’s World Prison Brief database, this article highlights the vast disparity between America’s prison population rate and that of other states across the world. It provides an account of the flawed federal policies adopted since the 1980s that underlie this disparity.

President Elect Trump is urged to press on with the current reform agenda for the good of all US citizens, one in three of whom has a criminal record today, and all of whom bear the burden of a prison system costing US$80 billion a year. Expressing a heartfelt desire to ensure that recent progress continues and produces lasting change, Obama provides many concrete examples of how executive power can influence criminal justice policy and practice, not only at federal but also at state and local levels.