Barack Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison


@barackobama was the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. See what he had to say about the effects of #massincarceration in the U.S. at today’s screening of a @vice documentary, where @shanesmithvice followed POTUS’ visit to #ElReno

President Obama toured a federal prison in Oklahoma and said the nation needs to reconsider policies that contribute to a huge spike in the number of people behind bars.

In an unprecedented visit by a sitting president, Obama met with half a dozen inmates at the El Reno prison, outside Oklahoma City. The trip was part of a weeklong push by the White House to focus attention on the president’s call for criminal justice reform.

Earlier this week, Obama spoke to an NAACP conference in Philadelphia, where he noted the U.S. prison population has quadrupled since 1980. Keeping more than 2 million Americans behind bars costs taxpayers some $80 billion a year.

“We have to consider whether this is the smartest way for us to both control crime and to rehabilitate individuals,” Obama said during his El Reno visit.

“There are people who need to be in prison,” he added. “And I don’t have tolerance for violent criminals.” But he argued it is time to change laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on nonviolent drug offenders, who are disproportionately black and Latino.

The president praised the Oklahoma facility for its job-training and educational offerings. But he added that help comes too late for many inmates.

“The question is not only how do we make sure that we sustain those programs here in the prison,” Obama said. “But how do we make sure that those same kinds of institutional supports are there for kids and teenagers before they get into the criminal justice system.”