Lest we forget, what Obama is trying to undo is what Clinton did. From CounterPunch:
The Clinton crime bill of 1994 introduced mandatory life imprisonment for persons convicted of a third felony in certain categories. It maintained the 100-to-1 disproportion in sentencing for crimes involving powder and crack cocaine, even though the US Sentencing Commission had concluded that the disparity was racist. It expanded to fifty the number of crimes that could draw the death penalty in a federal court, reaching even to crimes that did not include murders–the largest expansion of the death penalty in history. Pell grants giving prisoners an avenue to higher education were cut off. Federal judges were stripped of their powers to enforce the constitutional rights of prisoners and the power of states to set sentencing standards for drug crimes was greatly diminished.
The curtailment of states’ rights went further. Grants for new prisons contained the provision that receipt of the money was dependent on the states ensuring that prisoners served at least 85 percent of their sentences. These inmates, remember, had been convicted in state, not federal, courts so this was simply federal blackmail to curtail parole at the state level. The Clinton administration also pressed the states to try juvenile offenders as adults. Gore articulated the administration’s position: “When young people cross the line, they must be punished. When young people commit serious, violent crimes, they should be prosecuted like adults.” Nonviolent offenders were to be sent to boot camps. Not, it should be noted, his own kids, who evaded punishment for nonviolent infractions such as smoking pot and having an open alcohol container in the car.