On 16 July 2015, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president in U.S. history to visit a federal prison. A video of his statement is below.
“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.” — President Obama after visiting the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma: http://go.wh.gov/ElReno
What’s significant about the President’s message is that it represents not just a call for prison reform, but a call for thought reform and social reform:
- Prison Reform. The president expressed concern about the dangers caused by overcrowding in prisons. He noted that offering college degrees and jobs training is a positive step toward positive and successful reentry integrating people back into becoming productive members of society.
- Justice Reform. The president emphasized the need for diversion programs and a more effective justice system that doesn’t produce the highest rates of incarceration in the world. He suggested that non-violent crimes such as drug use shouldn’t be punished with decades or life in prison.
- Thought Reform. We tend to look around in our country at the incarceration crisis and think it’s normal. Yet, as we start to look around the world, we realize that what’s happening here isn’t normal. We need to do some soul searching to find out how our justice system and incarceration rates can be more representative of civilized developed countries. We’re currently doing worse than China, and other oppressive totalitarian intolerant regimes. We should be willing to compare various aspects of our society with other countries and think of ways to improve education, health care
- Social Reform. The president observed that in prison, people are offered a place to live, food, education, and jobs training to help them succeed in life so they don’t end up back in prison. He suggested that maybe we should offer education and jobs programs before people get in trouble with the law. That would save us lots of money and result in a safer society for everyone.
The video below is a shorter excerpt from his longer public statement to the press.
Complete Comments to the Media
Below are the President’s complete comments to the press.
Video Still Images
Below are some video stills from the event.