When President Obama arrives today at the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma, he will go where no president has gone before, literally and maybe figuratively, says the New York Times. In becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, Obama will showcase an emerging bipartisan drive to overhaul criminal justice in a way none of his predecessors have tried, at least not in modern times. Other presidents worked to toughen life for criminals; Obama wants to make their conditions better. He has embarked on an effort to cut sentences for nonviolent offenders; to make it easier for former convicts to re-enter society; and to revamp prison life by easing overcrowding, cracking down on inmate rape and limiting solitary confinement.
Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the U.S. has given excessive sentences to too many nonviolent offenders, at an enormous moral and financial cost. Today, he will meet with the warden, prison staff members and selected nonviolent offenders as part of a Vice documentary on the criminal justice system to be aired on HBO in the fall. Obama has ordered Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct a review of solitary confinement practices. “Our prisons should be a place where we can train people for skills that can help them find a job, not train them to become more hardened criminals,” the president said.