Photo by The California Endowment via Facebook
By: We’Ced Youth Media
Editor’s Note: President Obama began his campaign for prison reform earlier in the month by commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. Days later, he visited the El Reno federal prison outside Oklahoma City, the first sitting president ever to visit a federal penitentiary. After his visit, the president described the men he met at El Reno as “young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made.” Below, We’Ced youth journalists weigh in on the president’s decision to visit El Reno and his nascent efforts to reform the country’s criminal justice system.
Obama’s recent commutations have finally brought justice back into the American justice system. It is ridiculous that people who commit drug offenses have received sentences similar to those who have committed violent crimes … Many drug offenders do not have the support systems in place to beat addiction. This is a mental health issue, not an incarceration one. – Daniela Ceja, 18.
I grew up in a household where my parents abused drugs. My parents were in and out of prison, but they were never once granted any services to help them get clean, and as a result, they could never beat their addiction. What Obama did was a great thing. I know that if someone helped my mom like he has helped these 46 people, she could change her life and become sober. – Alyssa Mitchell, 18
I think what President Obama did was a great thing. He took the first step in changing how we view drug offenses. Drugs are sometimes used as coping mechanisms. We should not sentence people to life because they use drugs. More needs to be done to ensure other individuals with similar cases receive commutations as well. – Alex Salas, 17
My dad and stepmom have been in and out of jail my whole life. Both of them suffer from depression, which contributes to their drug use. My father is currently in therapy, but is constantly being told that he will be returned to jail if he does not attend his sessions. My stepmom is in jail because of her addiction. If we were to change the way we view addiction and actually get people the help they need … life for me and my family would be very different. – Justice Hess, 15
I believe people deserve second chances and what Obama did has really made an impact on me. I now know that this issue is a priority in our country, and that if we work together and continue to have the support of our president, then we can really change the justice system and our communities.” – Guadalupe Reyes, 17.
Prison reform should have been passed years ago … The ‘War on Drugs’ has not made our communities safer and has disproportionately punished people of color. It is time we acknowledge that locking people up is not a solution, and that instead of criminalizing and dehumanizing people, we should be helping them.– Miguel Garcia, 20.
I do not agree with what Obama did, but I am also not against it. There are countless factors that play out when a person is released from prison. If they have no support when they get out, they will more than likely end up doing what got them in trouble in the first place. Only some people change when they get out. Knowing who will take advantage of the opportunity and who will not is very difficult to determine. – Victor Seguin, 16.
Rather than incarcerating individuals, people are proposing that we establish clinics where individuals can get treatment and help. Now the question is, would this be a mandatory requirement for drug abusers to follow? What if they refuse? Before changing our system, which obviously is not working, we should find effective alternatives for incarceration.” – Fernando Almaraz, 19
It is important that people who abuse drugs and commit crimes be punished. I have known people with drug addiction problems that have never committed a crime, but I also know people that turn violent when on drugs. My stepfather began using drugs and then emotionally and physically abused my mom and me. He even shot someone. I was five years old and hid behind the the couch, but saw everything through the window. One time he also used my mom’s head to break a window. She was pregnant. Another time he picked up our elderly dog and threw him against the wall right in front of me. He was never punished for his acts and was instead put in a drug abuse program, but it did not change him. – Anonymous, 17.