Obama visited federal prison in El Reno

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Quick Facts:

  • President Obama arrived in Oklahoma on Wednesday
  • Obama announced a new affordable Internet program that will begin in the Choctaw Nation
  • Obama went to El Reno Thursday and became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison

President Barack Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison when he goes to the El Reno Correctional Facility on Thursday.

The president spoke to six non-violent drug offenders while at the prison and looked inside an empty 9 foot by 10 foot cell. 

In a release from the White House the president said he was struck by how easy it could be for a young person with few resources to end up in a prison like that. 

"There but for the grace of God," he said.

He said excellent work was being done at the medium-security prison with job training, college courses and drug counseling, but noted this facility, like many other prisons, is overcrowded.

He said mandatory minimum prison sentences were a "huge driver" of increases in prison populations across the country.

He also said society must reconsider what can be done to help young people and give them opportunities that could prevent them from getting caught up in drug crimes.

Obama said he did not "have tolerance for violent criminals," but that there should be a reconsideration of whether non-violent drug offenders should end up with lengthy sentences of 20 years or more.

The president also said the nation's burgeoning prison population is a costly financial drain for the country. He said he was hopeful that Democrats and Republicans could agree on supporting criminal justice reform.

He said young people around the world are known for sometimes making poor decisions, but that this country ends up incarcerating a disproportionate number of these young people, "particularly people of color."

 He repeated his concerns over the dangerous conditions in prison, including gang activity and sexual assault.

Obama arrived in Oklahoma on Wednesday where he spent time in Durant before flying to Oklahoma City. While in Oklahoma he called former President George H. W. Bush to wish him a speedy recovery after a fall that broke a bone in Bush's neck.

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In El Reno, Obama will meet with law enforcement, inmates and conduct an interview for a Vice documentary about the criminal justive system.

Governor Fallin met Obama when he arrived in Oklahoma City.

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The president left El Reno for Tinker Air Force base just before 1 p.m. Air Force One left Tinker Air Force base around 1:30 p.m.