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News >  Nation/World

Obama visit to prison part of reform push

Michael A. Memoli Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, part of a push he plans next week for reforming the criminal justice system.

On Thursday, the president will visit with inmates and officials at the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno near Oklahoma City, the White House announced Friday, and will be interviewed for the HBO news-magazine series “Vice” on the issue.

The trip will follow a speech on Tuesday at the NAACP’s annual convention in Philadelphia in which Obama will “lay out his ideas to make our country fairer, smarter and more cost-effective while keeping the American people safe and secure,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

The president highlighted criminal justice reform as a priority in his State of the Union speech in January, connecting it to high-profile clashes between local law enforcement and minority communities.

The White House also posted video of a conversation between the president and David Simon, writer of the acclaimed television series “The Wire,” in which Obama discussed the “massive trend toward incarceration, even of nonviolent drug offenders” that began in the 1990s.

“Folks go in at great expense to the state, many times trained to become more hardened criminals while in prison, (and) come out and are basically unemployable,” he said.

Criminal justice reform has emerged as an issue with potential for bipartisan action on Capitol Hill. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jon Cornyn, R-Texas, have introduced separate legislative efforts in past years. The president will highlight some of those bipartisan ideas as well, Earnest said.

El Reno is a medium-security federal prison housing more than 1,000 inmates. Another 248 inmates reside at an adjacent minimum-security camp.

Also on Friday, Obama designated new national monuments in California, Nevada and Texas, setting aside millions of acres that are home to prehistoric rock carvings, mammoth bones and popular outdoors destinations.

In Nevada, Obama announced a monument at Basin and Range that retiring Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has been seeking for years. He set aside more than 330,000 acres in northern California for a new monument at Berryessa Snow Mountain. Obama also declared that Waco Mammoth, a relatively small site in central Texas, would join the list of national monuments.

The three new sites bring to 19 the number of monuments Obama has created or expanded since taking office.

Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, presidents have broad authority to designate historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval, protecting those areas from new development.

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