Despite brief clash, Obama and Christie are both working for justice reform

President Obama visited a New Jersey rehabilitation center on the same day Gov. Chris Christie addressed Camden police officers. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (l.) greets President Barack Obama at Atlantic City International Airport, as the president arrives to witness damage from superstorm Sandy, Oct. 31, 2012.

President Barack Obama promoted his criminal justice reform campaign while touring a successful New Jersey rehab facility on Monday – and he wasn’t the only politician in the state tackling the issue.

Gov. Chris Christie, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke at an event recognizing progress in Camden's law enforcement. The city, known for poverty and violence, has slashed its crime rates in recent years through community-friendly policing.

Despite reports of a quarrel following their respective outings, President Obama and Governor Christie's efforts to reform criminal justice emphasizes a growing bipartisan recognition of the flaws in the current corrections system.

In Newark, Obama met with a former inmate and the staff of Integrity House, a nonprofit rehabilitation organization that serves current and former prisoners with drug addictions and housing issues. Founded by Newark Parole Officer David Kerr in the 1960s, the state-funded facility welcomes 2,400 guests every year with treatment, housing, and outpatient programs.

As part of his broader campaign to end mass incarceration and help former prisoners re-integrate into society, Obama is calling to "ban the box," eliminating the requirement that job seekers disclose criminal history on job applications.

"That's bad not only for those individuals, but for our economy," he said at a roundtable at Rutgers University following his visit to Integrity House. "It's bad for those communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. We've got to make sure Americans who have paid their debt to society can earn their second chance."

Following his visit, Obama announced a list a new steps the White House will undertake to reduce recidivism and aid reintegration, including up to $8 million in education and training grants from the Department of Education.

Before the president arrived at the Integrity House in Newark, Christie posted a video on his Instagram that said, "Dear Mr. President, we’ve been getting this done in New Jersey since 2010. How nice of you to show up."

But he did not mention the president during his address to the Camden police department.

Standing with Camden Mayor Dana Redd, Christie expressed gratitude for the city’s law enforcement officers: "I'm here because I want to continue to bring attention to those things and say, 'Thank you.' "

After the events, in response to reporters' questions, Christie criticized Obama for not supporting cops enough.

"All of these criminal justice reforms, none of them are his," Christie said. "And now, all of a sudden, he wants to come and take a victory lap at Integrity House? He wouldn't know what Integrity House was unless Cory Booker told him."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Christie’s comments as a campaign tactic.

"Gov. Christie's comments in this regard have been particularly irresponsible, but not surprising for somebody whose poll numbers are close to an asterisk," he said. "Clearly this is part of his strategy for turning that around. We'll see if it works."

Historically, the president and the governor have had an uneven relationship. Christie has condemned many of Obama's policies but lauded him for his response to 2012's Hurricane Sandy. The two have clashed repeatedly over national security and law enforcement.

But it is not surprising to see them both tackling criminal justice reform, an issue gaining momentum on the national stage.

As part of the comprehensive White House reform initiative, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in October that 6,000 inmates will be granted early release between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2.

As of Tuesday morning, dozens of non-violent prisoners have been from Kentucky prisons under the US Sentencing Commission’s decision last year to cut prison terms in order to ease overcrowding.

Last month, the Senate introduced a bipartisan proposal to limit mandatory sentencing, ban solitary confinement, and promote reentry programs. A week later, the Republican-led House unveiled its own watered down legislation that nonetheless marks a significant forward step on a traditionally liberal issue.

"The President has also called on Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform, including reforms that reduce recidivism for those who have been in prison and are reentering society," says a White House statement. "The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which recently received a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would be an important step forward in this effort."

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