Obama Goes To Prison
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Politics and Activism

Obama Goes To Prison

Obama visits prison in hopes of promoting criminal justice reform.

Obama Goes To Prison

On Thursday, July 16, President Barrack Obama became the first president to visit a prison while in office.

Obama visited a medium-security facility in El Reno, Okla., as part of a push towards criminal justice reform. He spoke for a while at the prison about changing the way nonviolent drug-related crimes are handled after visiting with six convicted inmates.

"If you're a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society," he said during his speech. "But you don't owe 20 years. You don't owe a life sentence. That's disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”

Along with other reform ideas for prison and the criminal justice system in general, Obama is trying to tackle the issue of why so many of our country’s youth are incarcerated.

"We have a tendency sometimes to take for granted or think it's normal that so many young people end up in our criminal justice system,” said Obama. “It's not normal; it's not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. ... And we've got to be able to distinguish between dangerous individuals who need to be incapacitated and incarcerated versus young people who ... given different opportunities, a different vision of life, [could thrive].”

We all know people who have dabbled in the use of illegal drugs or have even partaken in the illegal activity ourselves. For some, this could be the mistake that changes their life forever. Obama is advocating for the understanding that mistakes will be made, but that they shouldn’t be impossible to come back from.

"When they describe their youth, these are young people who made mistakes that aren't that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” said Obama.

Obama may be President of the United States of America now, but in his youth he tried marijuana and cocaine. Those choices could have stopped him from becoming everything he is today, especially if he had been been dragged into the criminal justice system we have because we don’t leave room for mistakes. One bad call can ruin someone's future in a blink of an eye.

Not everyone has the support they need to keep them from making these mistakes, or even to help them make it through. Some youth don’t have the power to just pay their bail, hire lawyers, or pay for rehab. It can be a whole different ballgame for people making the same mistake, depending on the variables of their lives. Obama doesn’t want one small mistake to seal the path of any individual.

“The difference is that they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes,” he said.

The United States has the highest number of prisons out of all other countries in the world. That isn’t a cheap statement: Economically, socially, and politically, the next step to tackling this issue is focusing on creating support for people involved in lower-level nonviolent crimes – instead of just incarcerating them and leaving them to rot.

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