President Barack Obama visited El Reno federal Prison in Oklahoma, where he sat down and talked to six inmates and prison officials as part of a television special to air on HBO. Obama stated that young people are prone to making mistakes and the criminal justice system has to find ways to better cope and reform them.
Obama's visit marked the first time any president had visited a federal prison, and came about during a week of actions focusing on the inequities of a system that disproportionately affects minority communities and is costing tax payers too much, while the system continues to fail in focusing on rehabilitation.
El Reno is a medium-security prison for nonviolent male offenders. Here, Obama met with six inmates where they shared their stories and got acquainted with one another. The President said that the stories he heard and the mistakes they made were not much different from those the president made in his youth, when he admitted to smoking marijuana and taking cocaine. President Obama stated, “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. 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.”
He goes on saying that America needs to differentiate between violent crimes and people “doing stupid things,” Obama said. He also mentioned that many young people who end up in prison for nonviolent drug crimes grew up in communities where drug trafficking is prevalent. The imposition of long prison sentences for these people has caused this country's overcrowded prison system. The president emphasized that more resources need to be directed to education, support and rehabilitation.
In Philadelphia, President Obama pushed for reform as he addressed leaders and members of the nation's NAACP, at the 106th annual NAACP convention. He outlined a proposal to reform courtrooms, prisons, and communities in an effort to rebalance a system that has been “skewed by race and wealth.”