President Barack Obama made his 2nd appearance as Commander in Chief before the NAACP on Tuesday during the 106th Convention — and his keynote address was one of the most in depth deliveries on criminal justice reform in his presidency.
By the numbers, Obama states that taxpayers pay “over $80 billion a year” to incarcerate people who often “have only been engaged in nonviolent drug offenses.”
“We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined,” the president said to roughly 8,000 attendees at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“The people in our prisons have made some mistakes and some big mistakes,” he continued. “But they are also Americans, and we have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society, that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.”
The passionate address comes after he granted clemency Monday to 46 inmates, mostly imprisoned for non-violent offenses such as drug charges under stringent mandatory minimum laws.
The President is currently in the process of urging a bipartisan congressional effort to improve the criminal justice system, according to a White House official. At the convention, his speech focused on policing and prisons, and the role of how communities, such as West Philadelphia, can all for an approach to activism that focuses on social problems, such as poverty.
“Places like West Philadelphia are a part of America too…we need to ensure that those children are loved,” Obama said.
The attendees’ reaction to the President’s address was highly supportive among various generations of NAACP participants.
“It felt good that the nation’s first black president was able to understand and perfectly narrate the current judicial struggles of young black men,” said Barry Johnson, 20 of Trenton, New Jersey.
Johnson, a current undergrad at Penn and current NAACP volunteer felt that the President’s words made him “feel more empowered to be a black American.”
Bradford Johnson, a voting NAACP delegate from Greensboro, North Carolina found the address “a reminder that the President has no boundaries.”
“He presented great ideas to break the preschool to prison pipeline,” he said. “He is walking the walk and talking the talk.”
On Thursday, Obama will be the first standing president to ever visit a correctional facility when he attends the Oklahoma Federal Prison.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has commuted the sentences of 89 people, more than the total number of commutations granted by the previous four presidents.
“America will move forward,” Obama concluded to a standing ovation, before walking off as Curtis Mayfield’s “Keep on Pushing” played.
Three things we learned from Obama’s speech
Obama’s speech touched on the following facts:
-It costs taxpayers $80 million dollars a year to incarcerate people in America with 60% of that population being African American and Latino men. Such men come from backgrounds that are shaped by mass incarceration and poor communities.
-America keeps more people behind bars than 35 of the top European countries combined. He will be the first standing American president to ever visit a correctional facility.
-1 in 3 African American children are born in poverty and Congress is currently working on bipartisan efforts to reduce the “classroom to prison pipeline” system that disproportionately criminalizes young minorities at unfair rates.