Reprinted from The Guardian
Spurred on by the historic #BlackLivesMatter movement and the increasing realization our enormous prison population is both inhumane and costing us a fortune, presidential candidates -- who once competed with one another over who was "tougher on crime" -- are falling all over themselves to praise reform efforts meant to reduce the number of prisoners in the US. Even more shocking: it's coming from both parties. But will the much-needed attention lead to actual change?
President Barack Obama this week became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, where he sounded more like a prison rights activist than a law-and-order president in his fantastic speech on the injustices faced by incarcerated Americans. He even ticked off statistics lamenting how the US to become by far the biggest jailer in the world: the US has only 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners; we have four times as many prisoners as China; and African-Americans and Latinos are 30% of the US population yet make up 60% of prison inmates.
Before that, Hillary Clinton's first major policy speech of her presidential campaign was not on the economy or foreign policy, but on criminal justice reform. "It's time to end the era of mass incarceration" she said. While she was rightly criticized for being short on specifics, it's still a testament to how the issue now requires the attention of any standard bearer of the Democratic party -- especially given her husband's role in perpetuating the problem in the 1990s.
And Bill Clinton, for his part, apologized this week for passing his administration's "tough on crime" bill in the 1990s, which for many years he openly bragged about. "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," he told the NAACP this week. "And I want to admit it."