Here Are the Details of Pres. Obama's Upcoming Tour of a Federal Prison

July 10th 2015

President Obama is about to do something that no other sitting president has done before: visit a federal prison.

The White House announced today that next week Obama will tour the El Reno correction institution in Oklahoma, a medium-security facility, in a historic event to be recorded by the digital media organization, VICE, as part of its popular HBO documentary series. The exclusive video is slated to air this fall.

VICE News writes that "Obama and VICE founder Shane Smith, host of the special, will tour the facility and meet with prisoners, prison staff, and law enforcement officials."

The central Oklahoma correctional institution houses approximately 1,300 inmates who have been convicted of violating federal law. Among those formerly incarcerated at the facility is Jason Hernandez, "a prisoner convicted on drug charges who had his life sentence commuted by Obama in 2013."

"The interviews will be part of a documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America's approach to crime and imprisonment," the news organization explains. "The special is the latest in VICE's ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States."

Smith maintains that "[t]here'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" and that by visiting El Reno with Obama, the media outlet will give 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."

The bold move—while unprecedented in and of itself—does at least appear consistent with what Obama has often cited as an important policy issue in serious need of public and congressional attention.

"The U.S. is home to 5 percent of the world's population but detains 25 percent of the global prison population," the Los Angeles Times notes, for example. In America, "the prison population has risen 700 percent since 1970."

Whatever revelations the documentary special may feature, the very act of making a presidential appearance at a federal prison suggests that the current administration plans to address the myriad problems associated with the criminal justice system—including mass incarceration and prisoner civil rights—and, hopefully, affect substantive change.

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