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Obama to Visit Federal Prison Today

PHOTO: President Obama is expected to discuss his plans for criminal-justice reform at a visit to Oklahoma's El Reno Federal Correctional Institution today. He'll be the first president to visit a prison while in office. Photo credit: Larry Farr/Morguefile.
PHOTO: President Obama is expected to discuss his plans for criminal-justice reform at a visit to Oklahoma's El Reno Federal Correctional Institution today. He'll be the first president to visit a prison while in office. Photo credit: Larry Farr/Morguefile.
July 16, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. – President Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison today.

The move is part of a major push for criminal-justice reform, which began earlier this week when the president commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners serving time for nonviolent crimes, including 14 sentenced to life.

Anthony Papa with the Drug Policy Alliance was once imprisoned under harsh drug laws in New York. He says with more than two million people behind bars, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world.

"The system is overcrowded, and full of nonviolent drug offenders given sentences of 15, 20, 25 years."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, North Carolina's prison population stood at almost 37,000 as of December 2013. While there is bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., for criminal-justice reform, some Republicans have criticized the sentence commutations as a "publicity stunt."

Others point to the high cost of keeping nonviolent offenders locked up when community-based drug treatment and rehabilitation programs cost less.

Since the administration announced its initiative last year, almost 7,000 inmates have filed petitions seeking commutations. Papa, who was granted clemency in 1997 while serving 15 years to life for a nonviolent drug conviction, says the president's action should serve as an example.

"Too many people are lingering in prison for nonviolent drug offenses that deserve second chances," he says. "Hopefully, governors of states will follow and grant some clemencies."

The Obama administration says it is committed to issuing more commutations for nonviolent offenders during the remainder of the president's term in office.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC