President Barack Obama made a historic trip to a federal prison Thursday (July 15), becoming the first sitting president in history to do so. The visit to Oklahoma’s El Reno prison is all a part of the president’s push for a reform of the criminal justice system.
Speaking to a handful of inmates in Cell Block D’s drug rehabilitation program, Obama shared that childhood behaviors could have ended him behind bars. “That’s what strikes me — there but for the grace of God,” he said. “And that is something that we all have to think about.”
The POTUS has dedicated a lot this week to the incarceration epidemic in America.
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.
Keeping in his prison reform plan to put a dent in mandatory sentencing for non-violent inmates, on Monday (July 13), President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders.