Next week, President Obama will be paying a historic visit to Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno to meet with inmates and law enforcement officials. This visit will make him the first US President to visit a federal prison while in office.
Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security prison that houses around 1,300 inmates. Obama’s visit will be documented for a VICE special that will air this fall on HBO as part of a broader project examining the American criminal justice system. According to Vice founder Shane Smith, “There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways.” He also stated that the visit “will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one-on-one conversations with the men and women living this reality.” Smith will be hosting the special.
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In March, Obama stated in an interview with The Wire that America’s prison population is composed of “disproportionately African-American people”, and that ex-prisoners are “functionally unemployable” in today’s workforce. Next week’s visit could be a sign of prison reform’s increasing relevance in Obama’s agenda for his last year in office.