WASHINGTON (CNN) — The White House and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took turns lambasting each others’ records on criminal justice Monday, as President Barack Obama traveled to Christie’s state to promote new initiatives to rehabilitate former prison inmates.
Speaking on CNN’s “New Day,” Christie claimed his own policing reforms in the Garden State had led to falling murder rates, adding later Obama “has not supported law enforcement in this country.”
Christie later said Obama was attempting to take credit for reforms he wasn’t party to.
“All of these criminal justice reforms, none of them are his,” Christie told reporters outside Camden, New Jersey, suggesting Obama was taking a “victory lap” at Integrity House, a drug rehabilitation center and halfway house in Newark the president stopped at Monday.
Speaking aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Josh Earnest countered that Christie was simply seeking to elevate his standing in the 2016 GOP primary contest, where he’s currently running near the back of a crowded field of candidates.
“Gov. Christie’s comments in this regard have been particularly irresponsible, but not surprising for somebody whose poll numbers are close to an asterisk,” Earnest said. “Clearly this is part of his strategy for turning that around. We’ll see if it works.”
In Newark, Obama made his latest push for criminal justice reform, which has become a key domestic priority for the White House. The new actions include “banning the box” requiring applicants to disclose their criminal background on job applications at federal agencies.
At Integrity House, Obama met with a former inmate and staff at the residential facility. Later he participated in a roundtable on prisoner re-entry into society at Rutgers University, where he addressed the hardships former inmates face when applying for jobs.
“That’s bad not only for those individuals, but for our economy,” he said. “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.”
The White House Monday announced new actions to promote rehabilitation and reintegration, including $8 million in education grants from the Department of Education and tech training and jobs for individuals with a criminal record.
Obama is also calling on Congress to “ban the box” on federal job applications that requires job applicants to state if they have a criminal record.
“Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons,” the White House said in a statement. “Advancing policies and programs that enable these men and women to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance promotes not only justice and fairness, but also public safety.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced in October that they would grant early release to about 6,000 inmates between October 30 and November 2.
The prisoners have served an average of nine years and were due to be released in about 18 months, according to a Justice Department official. Many were already in half-way houses.
This is the latest push for criminal just reform from the Obama administration. In July, Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison and met with six inmates.
Obama told NBC’s Lester Holt in an exclusive interview clip airing Monday that he’s proud of the work he’s been able to do on behalf of racial injustice, but said it must continue under the next president.
“I am very proud that my presidency can help to galvanize and mobilize America on behalf of issues of racial disparity and racial injustice,” he told NBC’s Holt. “But I do so hoping that my successor, who’s not African-American — if he or she is not — that they’ll be just as concerned as I am. Because this is part of what it means to perfect our union.”