Obama Mentions Criminal Justice Reform Briefly But Avoids Race, Policing


President Obama called for criminal justice reform briefly in his last State of the Union address last night but chose not to address the topic in any detail. The Washington Post notes that although the speech “followed a year of protests in such cities as Chicago and Minneapolis and even riots in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal neck injury in police custody — the president did not directly address race or policing.” He did not directly tackle the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, or the national discussion of race and policing that has underscored many of the domestic policy debates at the heart of the 2016 presidential race.

The president’s short remarks on the subject were these: “So I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse. We just might surprise the cynics again.” Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman, in his Sentencing Law and Policy blog, cited Obama’s “so far uninspired record” on criminal justice and said he wasn’t “surprised or disappointed that all the criminal justice buzz leading up to this speech was just more smoke and mirrors.” A number of criminal justice leaders were invited to see the speech with First Lady Michelle Obama, such as Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, but had to discuss their issues privately with the president in a post-speech reception.

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