In a historic move, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison, in an effort to draw national attention to the need for reform in the American criminal justice system.
"These are young people who made mistakes that aren't that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made. The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes,” he told reporters at El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside of Oklahoma City.
Six inmates were selected to participate in a 45-minute conversation with the president, which we can expect to see on HBO’s Vice in the fall.
This comes just days after he granted clemency to 46 prisoners who spent many years in prison, and faced many more for non-violent, drug offenses.
“If they’d been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would have already served their time,” Obama explained. Incarceration of prisoners, who often times have only been charged in non-violent drug offenses, he says, accounts for over $80 billion a year.
Prison reform is not a progressive idea, nor is it a pillar unique to the Republican agenda -- it’s a nonpartisan issue, with members from all political ideologies seeing the need for an overhaul in our current criminal justice system.
Setting party labels aside, Obama recently commended Paul for his consistency on the issue.
“As Republican senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul has said, to his credit he has been consistent on this issue, ‘imprisoning large numbers of non-violent drug offenders for long periods of time costs the taxpayers money without making them any safer,’” Obama said.
Politicians from all across the political spectrum agree: America needs prison reform. Whether or not they can actually work together, however, is another story.
Photo Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times