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After ObamaAfrican American Politics in a Post-Obama Era$
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Todd Shaw, Robert A. Brown, and Joseph P. McCormick

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781479807277

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479807277.001.0001

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Monumental Promises, Incremental Gains

Monumental Promises, Incremental Gains

Criminal Justice Reform in the Obama Era

(p.222) 8 Monumental Promises, Incremental Gains
After Obama

Khalilah L. Brown-Dean

NYU Press

There were growing public demands to address ongoing tensions over biased policing, excessive sentencing, and the often lethal consequences of disproportionate minority contact. However, the Obama administration’s professed commitment to comprehensive criminal justice and mass incarceration reform was constrained by institutional norms, federalism, and a skepticism about individual responsibility that most frequently came from Republican detractors. Hyperincarceration in the United States has garnered substantial attention from scholars, activists, and analysts. Yet beyond crime rates, the racially disparate consequences of this autonomous system hold significant implications for the institutionalization of Black political power. African Americans are disproportionately represented in every realm of punitive control, from surveillance to arrest to conviction to incarceration to postrelease supervision. Crime control policies, then, shape individual access and communal representation. In this chapter, I interrogate President Obama’s record through the lens of what I term “concentrated punishment.” I begin by highlighting the behemoth growth of the criminal justice system that set the tone for the challenges President Obama attempted to address. From there, I analyze key policy reforms within these two domains to characterize President Obama’s legacy of criminal justice reform. Finally, I outline a reform path for future administrations.

Keywords:   Obama administration, Black politics, mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, concentrated punishment, federalism

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