Obama Talks Criminal Justice Reform at NAACP Convention

By Kenrya Rankin Jul 15, 2015

Yesterday at the NAACP’s 106th Annual National Convention in Philadelphia, President Barack Obama talked about his plan for criminal justice reform, saying that real change will require work in the community, the courtroom and the cellblock. The president’s speech was full of key quotes, including the news that he will soon commute more sentences for nonviolent offenders, and that on July 16, 2015, he will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Here are a few of the most memorable moments:

On mass incarceration:

Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair, that is not a justice system. That is an injustice system. …Mass incarceration makes our country worse off. And we need to do something about it.

On why the black community lags behind in America: 

Part of this is the legacy of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation and structural inequalities that compounded over generations. It did not happen by accident. Partly it’s the result of continuing and sometimes more subtle bigotry, whether in who gets called back for a job interview or who gets suspended from school, or what neighborhood you’re able to rent and apartment in.

On the need for sentencing reform:

In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you are a low-level drug dealer or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.

On unemployment in the black community:

When America’s unemployment rate was 9.5 percent when I first came into office as it was going up, we properly recognized this is a crisis. Right now the unemployment rate among African-Americans is 9.5 percent. What should we call that? It is a crisis. And we have to be just as concerned about continuing to lift up job opportunities for these young people.

On prison conditions and rape culture:

We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prisons. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable. 

On helping ex-offenders move on:

Let’s reward prisoners with reduced sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to commit a repeat offense. Let’s invest in innovative new approaches to link former prisoners with employers, help them stay on track. Let’s follow the growing number of our states and cities and private companies who have decided to ban the box on job applications so that former prisoners who have done their time and are now trying to get straight with society have a decent shot in a job interview. And if folks have served their time and re-entered society, they should be able to vote.

Watch the full speech below.