President Barack Obama announced today that he will visit the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma next week to participate in a VICE special on America's criminal justice system. It will make Obama the first sitting US president to visit a federal prison.
As part of the VICE special airing this fall on HBO, Obama and VICE founder Shane Smith, host of the special, will tour the facility and meet with prisoners, prison staff, and law enforcement officials.
Located in central Oklahoma, El Reno is a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates convicted of violating federal law. It was home to 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 special is the latest in VICE's ongoing coverage of what has become a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.
"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," Smith said. "Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — 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. It's going to be fascinating."
In late June, after what the president described as a "gratifying" week that saw the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage and uphold a key part of the Affordable Care Act, he said that criminal justice reform would be a priority during the remainder of his time in office.
"I am really interested in the possibilities, the prospect of bipartisan legislation around the criminal justice system," the president told reporters on June 30. "And we've seen some really interesting leadership from some unlikely Republican legislators very sincerely concerned about making progress there."
The New York Times reported that in the coming weeks, Obama is expected to issue orders commuting the sentences of dozens of federal prisoners convicted of non-violent drug offenses.