In 2015, Barack Obama traveled to Oklahoma to meet with men incarcerated at El Reno prison—the first sitting president to actually walk into a federal prison. After meeting with men in the prison, he was struck by how much they have in common. He told reporters, “These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made.”
As President Obama prepares to leave office, the United States still holds the dubious honor of having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.2 million people behind bars. In order to assess his impact on the criminal justice system, it’s necessary to examine the policy shifts that got us here in the first place.
In recent years most states have enacted reforms designed to reduce the scale of incarceration and the impact of the collateral consequences of a felony conviction. This briefing paper describes key reforms that were prioritized in 2019.
As the movement to challenge mass incarceration evolves there is growing attention being given to the dramatic impact of life sentences on the prison population. In 2019 national and state groups worked to build the base of support for ending life imprisonment. State advocates and organizers facilitated connections through strategy sessions to support reform.