In one of his most aggressive speeches ever on the subject, President Obama recently called for sweeping reform the U.S. criminal justice system, saying that “hopelessness and despair” caused by over-incarceration, especially of African Americans and Latinos, make the system fall short of what it should be.
Speaking at the national convention of the NAACP, Obama called for a range of reforms. Among his proposals were reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences; reviewing how solitary confinement is used; and helping people find jobs after they have served their time.
He criticized policies that have led to mass incarceration, especially of African American and Latino people. He noted that those ethnic groups make up 30 percent of the overall U.S. population, but 60 percent of its prison population. Overall, the U.S. has just 5 percent of the global population, but fully one-quarter of Earth’s prisons.
“Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it’s the presence of opportunity,” Obama said. To help people move on with their lives after a criminal conviction, he called on making it illegal for employers to ask job applicants about their criminal history.
Earlier in the week, Obama reduced the sentences of 46 federal inmates imprisoned for non-violent and low-level drug offenses. Many observers criticize America’s so-called “War on Drugs” for focusing too much on harsh punishments for low-level offenders, which they call an ineffective response to the problem of drug addiction.
There is bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, according to TIME. Still, real action could take time to occur.