On July 16th 2015, President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit a federal prison where he stepped through the doors of Oklahoma’s El Reno federal prison to talk to inmates and law enforcement officers about the current state of the US criminal justice system. After peering into a sterile prison cell, he said the US needs to reconsider the way crime is controlled and prisoners are rehabilitated.
The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails, and 2.7 million American minor children have one of those people in jail or prison as their parent. Another way to say that is that 1-in-28 American children (3.6%) have an incarcerated parent. It is hoped that if Obama’s Criminal Justice reform proposals are considered, we could see fewer children being affected by parental imprisonment. During the July 13 ,2015 event, President Obama commented on the sentences of 46 drug offenders in US federal prisons, saying these individuals had served sentences disproportionate to their crimes. In addition, a lesser-known policy change enacted in 2014 will affect 1,000 times the number of people per Obama’s commutations.
With this turning of event, we have reason to anticipate that soon more American children with incarcerated parents will see their parents come home sooner than expected. To those children it will mean lessening the collateral damage they have already suffered from having their parent in prison, and for the nation this means lowering the number of children affected by parental incarceration.
And so, as we acknowledge this positive change, globally we must continue to strive for powerful Criminal justice reforms that have a direct impact on children of prisoners.