In a 56-page scholarly article published Thursday, Jan. 5, President Obama touted his administration’s accomplishments in the area of criminal justice reform but argued that the U.S. still had a long way to go in addressing the roles racism and bias play in shaping today’s judicial policies.
“We cannot deny the legacy of racism that continues to drive inequality in how the justice system is experienced by so many Americans,” Obama wrote in an article for the Harvard Law Review.
“And in too many communities, especially communities of color and those struggling with poverty and addiction, the justice system has touched almost every family,” he continued. “The costs of maintaining this system are nothing short of breathtaking.”
This isn’t the first time the outgoing POTUS has made history with the prestigious law review. Obama served as the HLR’s first Black president when he was just a 28-year-old law student and is now the first sitting president to publish a work of legal scholarship, according to the law review’s current president Michael Zuckerman. Politico reported that the president also authored a scholarly article on the achievements of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, this past summer.
President Obama has been a champion of criminal justice reform over his past eight years in the White House, granting clemency and presidential pardons to over 1,000 federal inmates. But now, as the U.S. enters a new phase under the direction of president-elect Donald Trump, the Obama administration can only hope that incoming president moves forward in implementing much-needed criminal justice reforms.
“It would be a tragic mistake to treat criminal justice reform as an agenda limited to certain communities,” Obama wrote. “All Americans have an interest in living in safe and vibrant neighborhoods, in raising their children in a country of equal treatment and second chances, and in entrusting their liberty to a justice system that remains true to our highest ideals.”
The president went on to cite a number of statistics on the significant monetary burden of mass incarceration. For instance, the U.S. spends an estimated $80 billion every year to imprison 70 million American men and women. The majority of incarcerated Americans, who are disproportionately Black and Latino, continually float in and out of prison, as there aren’t effective post-release programs in place to reduce recidivism. Black and Latino people are also more likely to receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts for the same crimes.
Obama wrapped up his scholarly paper by touching on a few areas of unfinished business, including effective ways to fight the current opioid epidemic, the restoration of felons’ voting rights and passing new gun laws.
“At the end of the day, those entrusted with influence over the direction of the criminal justice system must also remember that reform is about more than the dollars we spend and the data we collect,” the president concluded.
The ball is now in Trump’s court.