Barack Obama says too many young Black and Latino men are filling America's jails

'This is not just anecdotal. This is not just barbershop talk'

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama has acknowledged the problems with the US's criminal justice system - saying that prisons were too full, that young black men were overly represented and vowing to carry out a review of the use of solitary confinement.

In his annual speech to annual convention of the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) Mr Obama called for voting rights to be restored to prisoners who have served their sentences, and said employers should stop the practice of asking job candidates about their past convictions.

He said long mandatory minimum sentences now in place should be reduced or discarded entirely, according to the Associated Press.

In his annual speech to annual convention of the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) Mr Obama called for voting rights to be restored to prisoners who have served their sentences, and said employers should stop the practice of asking job candidates about their past convictions.

He said long mandatory minimum sentences now in place should be reduced or discarded entirely, according to the Associated Press. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime,” Mr Obama told a crowd of 3,300 in Philadelphia.

With his speech to the prominent African-American advocacy group, Mr Obama sought to put a spotlight on the need for new legislation as he mounted a week-long push on criminal justice reform.

A day earlier, he had commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, the most commutations a president has issued on a single day in at least four decades.

Mr Obama said many of the people in US jails needed to be there - “murderers, predators, rapists, gang leaders” — yet he said that in too many instances, law enforcement was treating young black and Latino men differently than their white peers.

“This is not just anecdotal. This is not just barbershop talk,” he said. “The statistics cannot be ignored. We cannot close our eyes anymore.”

The speech comes as the US continues to grapple with the issues of race and inequality and the treatment of black suspects at the hands of the police, prosecutors and parole boards.

Since Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, the federal prison population has multiplied, from just 24,000 in the 1980s to more than 214,000, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, cutting penalties for crack cocaine offences. And last year, the independent Sentencing Commission reduced guideline ranges for drug crimes and applied those retroactively.

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