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Politics & Government

Obama Visits Federal Prison In Oklahoma To Tout Criminal Justice Reform

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Oklahoma today, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. He toured the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution and met with the warden, staff members and inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes. The visit is part of President Obama's push to overhaul the criminal justice system. This week, he also granted clemency to 46 nonviolent drug offenders who were serving time for crimes that no longer carry long sentences. In a moment, we'll hear from one former inmate whose sentence was commuted earlier this year. First, this report from Kate Carlton Greer of member station KGOU who was at the prison in El Reno.

KATE CARLTON GREER, BYLINE: President Obama walked down cell block B, taking in the two-story medium-security prism with a corrections officer and Federal Bureau of Prisons director, Charles Samuels. He peeked inside a tiny, 90-square-foot cell that holds up to three inmates, which he said highlights the need for prison reform.

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BARACK OBAMA: This is an outstanding institution within the system, and yet, we - they've got enormous overcrowding issues.

GREER: Crowded prisons are common across the country, especially here in Oklahoma where the average penitentiary is over 110 percent capacity. All week, the president's been pushing for corrections reforms, saying the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses are too harsh. On Monday, he commuted the sentences of 46 inmates.

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OBAMA: We have to reconsider whether 20- or 30-year life sentences for nonviolent crimes is the best way for us to solve these problems.

GREER: During a stop in Oklahoma, Obama met with six nonviolent offenders who he said made mistakes that weren't all that different from the ones he and many others make in their youth. What those inmates lacked, he said, was a proper support structure and a second chance. For NPR News, Kate Carlton Greer in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.