Over the course of 43 different American presidents, you’d think that at some point, just one of them would have thought — even if for PR purposes — to visit a federal prison, given that our country boasts the largest prison population in the world and the second largest per-capita rate of incarceration. (As Deadline explains, America encompasses only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners.) Thus far, however, it’s never happened — but that’s about to change, thanks to Obama and, less expectedly, Vice and HBO. Through its deal with HBO, Vice is making a special that’s an “in-depth look into the dire impact the current criminal justice system is having on millions of Americans.”
The White House announced today that President Obama plans to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison with 1,300 inmates; the visit will be documented in the special, with Obama touring the facility with Vice’s co-founder, Shane Smith; there, they’ll interview the prisoners, the staff and law enforcement officials. Smith said in a statement:
There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways. Visiting El Reno with President Obama — the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president — will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one-on-one conversations with the men and women living this reality.
The visit, which the Washington Post notes is “part of [Obama’s] intensified push to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system,” will happen next Thursday, following the President’s talk at the annual NAACP conference on Tuesday about revising sentencing guidelines. The Post explains that it’s also rumored the President will be commuting the sentences of dozens of nonviolent criminals next week. Achieving bipartisan agreement to alter the severity of sentencing for non-violent crimes — guidelines that have seen the excessive imprisonment of people of color — is one of Obama’s main focuses in his remaining time as President.
The related Vice program will air on HBO in fall.