In a frank conversation about justice reform on Thursday at the White House, President Obama evaluated the effectiveness of the criminal-justice system, discussed the role of police and communities, and spoke of his own experiences of driving while black.
The discussion was led by Marshall Project Editor-in-Chief Bill Keller and included Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, a member of the newly-formed Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration; and John Walsh, U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in the audience, along with multiple police chiefs and other law enforcement executives from around the country.
Keller opened the discussion by citing a widely circulated fact: The U.S. represents 5 percent of the world’s population but has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. He also reminded the audience that the U.S. incarceration rate is multiple that in places like China (four times) and Germany (nine times). Lastly, he reiterated that African Americans and Latinos are overrepresented in prisons when compared to their total population.
“What’s the goal?”
To get the discussion going, Keller asked each panelist to consider what the goal of criminal-justice reform should be. President Obama started off by stating that, “We’re at a unique moment. … People are asking hard questions about our criminal-justice system.” He then outlined three “principles” that his administration and the attorney general’s office are pursuing:
- 1: Fairness