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Obama makes first-ever presidential visit to federal prison

By Amy R. Connolly
Obama makes first-ever presidential visit to federal prison
President Barack Obama holds a press conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 15. Obama defended the recent Iran nuclear deal, stating that while the deal is not perfect it is the best means to assure that Iran does not secure a nuclear weapon. Thursday, Obama will visit Federal Corrections Institution El Reno, a medium-security prison in Oklahoma, in an effort to push criminal justice system reforms. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY, July 16 (UPI) -- President Obama will visit Federal Corrections Institution El Reno, a medium-security prison in Oklahoma, in an effort to push reforms to the nation's criminal justice system Thursday.

Obama's visit marks the first time a sitting United States president has visited a federal penitentiary and underscores the unprecedented bipartisan drive to overhaul the way America punishes its criminals. Before leaving for Oklahoma on Wednesday, Obama said for many languishing in prisons on nonviolent drug crimes "the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime," and it is costing taxpayers and communities.

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"While the people in our prisons have made some mistakes — and sometimes big mistakes — they are also Americans," Obama said Tuesday in a speech before the NAACP convention in Philadelphia.

"Our criminal justice system isn't as smart as it should be. It's not keeping us as safe as we should be. It is not as fair as it should be," he said.

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In the past several days, Obama has made it clear criminal justice reforms are his focus, from the 46 commutations he issued Monday to the reforms he laid out Tuesday.

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El Reno, located about 30 miles out of Oklahoma City, was hand picked by the White House for the presidential visit. About half of the 1,289 inmates are drug offenders, which is proportional to the entire federal prison population. The racial and ethnic makeup represents the overall federal prison population, with inmates of varied ages and sentence lengths. The prison has an evidence-based residential drug abuse treatment program and a reentry program that is aimed at helping prisoners prepare for life after release.

Obama will meet with law enforcement officials, inmates and participate in a documentary on America's criminal justice system that will air in the fall.

RELATED Obama commutes sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders

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