In his final State of the Union address last night, President Obama told the American people that he would not allow his final year in office to be a silly season.
Among his key priorities for the year would be an increased emphasis on criminal justice reform—an effort Obama referenced as a "bipartisan priority" despite the current rancorous bipartisan climate. House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) told Politico earlier in the week that he and others in the GOP are committed to this agenda as well, and will likely craft a criminal justice reform plan in the next six months.
In his speech, Obama applauded those citizens who "helped America travel so far," including "the American who served his time, and [made] bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over" as well as "the business owner who gives him that second chance."
Underscoring his concern for these second chances, Obama hosted Sue Ellen Allen who served seven years in Arizona’s correctional system and now helps other women coming out of prison. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) also hosted Kemba Smith, a former first-time non-violent drug offender whose sentence was commuted by the president in 2000.
On behalf of Prison Fellowship, I applaud President Obama for highlighting criminal justice reform and second chances for those who have served their sentences and paid their debts to society.
The stakes for prison reform have never been higher than they are today. More than 26,000 Americans are arrested each day and our current policies write these people off. The president is right to draw focus and support second chances once debts are paid and honor the dignity, value, and potential of each life.
Craig DeRoche is an Emeritus Member of the Faith and Justice Fellowship. DeRoche was the youngest statewide Republican leader in the country and was elected Michigan Speaker of the House, but in 2010, after serving a full tenure in the state legislature, DeRoche made national headlines with two alcohol-related arrests. It was only after his arrests, rehabilitation, and a renewed focus on his Christian faith that DeRoche escaped from his life-long struggle with alcoholism. He has been sober since 2010. DeRoche’s first book, Highly Functional, released in May 2015, is a memoir of his life transitioning from addiction to recovery.