Obama recently made a speech about prison reform, a long overdue, overlooked shadow in the dark, largely ignored recesses of American culture. I had low expectations when I first heard about it, so when I watched it… well. Bravo, Mr. President. He not only delivered it powerfully but with genuine conviction. He really gets it.
It’s a long speech, but I’ve made a short transcript of my favorite parts:
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If somebody in the midst of imprisonment recognizes the error of their ways, is in the process of reflecting about where they’ve been and where they should be going, we gotta make sure that they’re in a position to make the turn. That is why we should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilized country. We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison, we should not be tolerating gang activity in prison, 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.
Solitary confinement in prisons… the social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent… do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years, at a time? That is not gonna make us safer, that’s not gonna make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt? It’s not smart.
Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it is the presence of opportunity.
Justice is making sure every young person knows that they are special and that they are important and that their lives MATTER… and not because they SAW IT IN A HASHTAG but because of the love they FEEL every single day! Not just love from their parents, not just love from their neighborhood, but love from police! Love from politicians! Maybe love from somebody on the other side of the country but somebody that still says, THAT PERSON IS IMPORTANT TO ME…!
That is what justice is.
– President Obama
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Oof. Almost lost a contact lens just writing that. I really don’t have much to add, the man pretty much nailed it. The only thing I will add some clarity about solitary confinement. That isn’t simply a punishment for being violent in jail or prison. No, no. Everyone that can’t make bail or gets sentenced to do time experiences it. During the initial processing period inmates are put in individual cages for 23 hours day without exception. Places like Albany County Correctional push it to 23 hours and 45 minutes per day for weeks at a time (thankfully only two, for me). Then if you get transferred there can be another round of solitary before they assign housing. That’s when I experienced the 23hrs a day treatment, thankfully for only another two weeks. So that was roughly a month… Jesus. And I was considered one of the lucky ones! Can you imagine if I’d been black??
Learn more. Get involved. Speak out.
Here’s the full speech: