Monday, January 16, 2017

Obama Should be Celebrated for Criminal Justice Progress He Achieved

On Martin Luther King Day, Let Us Remember Obama's Accomplishments


            As the United States prepares to inaugurate a new President, it is time to look back at the last eight years and consider what they have meant to all federal prisoners.  Although we have not been shy in this space to express our disappointment in the President on the subject of broad sentence relief, we must not lose sight of his accomplishments that laid the groundwork for more progress in that area.

            First, although Obama will be remembered as the first African-American President, you would be hard-pressed to point to any one instance where he favored one segment of the population over another on the basis of race. He was elected by the people, and whether you supported him or not, that is a fact.

            Second, when you eliminate the media "noise" surrounding him, whatever your politics, you must applaud his basic decency as a husband, a father, and as a man. Whether you agree with his politics or not, his personal life has been completely free of scandal or innuendo, and he has been an excellent role model to all Americans whatever their race  and not just because of his unique background.

            Thirdly, Obama put all prisoners "on the map" of responsible public discussion. He was the first President in memory to visit a federal prison, and the optics of that visit will be helpful for years to come.  The BOP is the most publicity-adverse agency in the federal government, and its archaic management style only can survive in the absence of media attention to its practices. Obama blew that up, and there is no going back.

            Fourthly, one can not overstate the impact that over 1000 commutations and pardons had on public consciousness of the plight of prisoners, and every announcement of more executive mercy was more positive publicity for the cause of even more sentence relief. 

            Finally, it may be hard to understand when you are enduring the many daily  indignities of incarceration, but the general public IS aware of your situation, and is open to change, and is tired of footing the bill for excessive sentences.  People who voted for both Clinton and Trump think that the federal government does a poor job of managing ALL of its agencies, including the DOJ and the BOP. When the only people opposing sentence relief are the labor unions for assistant U.S. Attorneys, and prison guards, we see an opportunity for a serious disruption of the old way of doing business in the American "Justice" system."