Obama’s Criminal Justice Legacy Is Now In Local Hands



OVER THE PAST eight years, President Barack Obama has made reforming the country’s criminal justice system a priority. The next president’s priorities aren’t likely to be the same.

“I know that anxiety is the elephant in the room today,” Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told a room full of local leaders yesterday at a White House event meant to highlight the president’s criminal justice reform achievements. But advancing the cause, she said, “should not depend on one person who occupies this office. It should depend on all of you.”

The president has left them with a lot to work with. During his two terms, Obama has directly confronted the country’s ballooning prison and jail populations. He took on the uneasy relationships between the police and the public, especially minority communities, and repeatedly invited civil rights and Black Lives Matter movement leaders like DeRay McKesson to the White House. He was the first sitting president to ever visit a federal prison. He commuted 1,023 federal prison sentences, more than the last 11 presidents combined. The Department of Justice, under his leadership, has funded police body cameras and led investigations into instances of police brutality in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. Recently, the administration launched an effort to end its contracts with federal privately-owned prisons.

When Trump takes over, however, cities and states may well face an administration seeking to roll back many of these Obama-era reforms. The president-elect campaigned on a theme of “law and order” and has called “black lives matter” an “inherently racist” term. He has appointed Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a staunch criminal justice reform opponent, to be the next attorney general.”

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