Thursday, July 16, 2015

President Obama Becomes The First Sitting President To Visit A Prison

Thursday July 16th, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. The visit was part of a week-long agenda on criminal justice reform. 

He came to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution on Thursday to get a firsthand look at life behind bars. El Reno, is a medium-security prison with a minimum-security satellite camp, housing a total of 1,300 inmates.

Accompanied by aides, correctional officials and the standard flank of Secret Service agents, the President crossed through multiple layers of metal gates and fences topped by razor wires on his way to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion. The only security personnel were outside on the carefully trimmed grass yards.

The President spoke with six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a conversation with him. The conversations were recorded by the news organization Vice for a documentary on the criminal justice system that will air on HBO in the fall. 

The President gave reporters a touching reflection on his conversation with the inmates.

“When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. “The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

“We have a tendency sometimes to take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up for drug crimes. “It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people who make mistakes.”

If they had the same advantages he and others have had, Mr. Obama added, they “could be thriving in the way we are.”

The visit comes on the heels of  a speech Obama gave Tuesday at the NAACP’s annual convention in Philadelphia where he laid out his ideas to make our country fairer, smarter and more cost effective while keeping the American people safe and secure.

The visit also follows the pardoning of 46 non-violent inmates who faced long sentences.

In recent weeks, Obama has become more outspoken about the need for criminal justice reform. His actions this week underscores his seriousness toward that issue.

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