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President Obama focused strongly on criminal sentencing reforms

Presidents are busy people, of course, with President Barack Obama underscoring that fact in a big way last week.

Notably, much of the president's focus was on a single topic, namely, the country's criminal justice system.

If there was a central theme to the president's message and its constant reiteration last week, it was conveyed through his reference to "the challenges and opportunities" the system faces.

The challenge: dealing with what Obama and many other critics contend are failed criminal law policies that too quickly stress imprisonment as a preferred solution to crime, even when that outcome is inappropriate. Strong bipartisan support for reform has emerged recently, fueled in part by the perception that too many nonviolent and even first-time offenders -- especially defendants convicted on some drug crimes charges -- are being locked up for lengthy periods. Mandatory minimum sentencing requirements have played a central role in prison overcrowding.

"Mass incarceration makes our country worse off and we need to do something about it," the president said last Tuesday.

Indeed, he acted on that sentiment a day earlier, when he used a singular presidential power to commute the federal prison terms of 46 inmates serving sentences on low-level drug charges.

And a CNN article on Obama's recent flurry of reform-related activity noted the "exclamation point" he put on his busy week last Thursday by becoming the first U.S. president to ever visit a federal prison while in office.

That visit highlighted the opportunities that Obama and others insist can materially reform the country's justice system. Former President Clinton alluded to those earlier this year, when he noted in hindsight that his administration's role in promoting harsh federal sentencing laws militated against affected inmates' abilities to pursue education and job-related training, "so that they could live productive lives" following their release from prison.

Source: CNN, "President Barack Obama makes historic trip to prison, pushes reform," Tom LoBianco, July 17, 2015

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