It was a spare room, with two beds, a sink and toilet in a corner, and three bars on the single window. Cell 123. President Obama looked inside.
Federal Corrections Institution El Reno, just outside of Oklahoma City is the only prison to be visited by a sitting president. Amid a push on criminal-justice reform, including granting clemency to 46 nonviolent drug offenders and making a major speech outlining his policy goals this week, Obama on Thursday experienced the focus of his policy push firsthand. And, he said, he saw himself in some of the inmates.
"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," Obama said at Cell Block B of the prison complex, which holds the Residential Drug Abuse Prevention Unit, according to a White House press pool report. "The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes."
In a speech at the NAACP's annual convention Tuesday in Philadelphia, Obama laid out some of those resources. He announced that he has directed Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review the use of solitary confinement, called for restoring voting rights to felons, and made the case for sentencing reform, urging Congress to pass legislation to that end by the end of the year.