Last week, President Barack Obama granted clemency to 46 non-violent prisoners. This morning, he visited an all-male medium security prison in Oklahoma, marking the first time a sitting US president has ever visited a federal prison. A 45 minute round-table discussion between the President and six prisoners ensued.

Obama spoke about systematic racism providing the framework of a flawed justice system, and the distinction between violent criminals and rambunctious teens:

When they described their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes a lot of you guys made. 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.

So many young people end up in our criminal justice system – it’s not normal. It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things, what is normal is young people making mistakes, and we’ve got to be able to distinguish between dangerous individuals who need to be incapacitated and incarcerated versus young people who are in an environment in which they are adapting, but given different opportunities and a different vision of life could be thriving the way we are.

Last Tuesday, Obama made an impassioned speech in which he vowed to reform the criminal justice system which disproportionately targets black and Hispanic communities, before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The President called for lowering, if not ending, mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug charges, expanding job training programs for inmates, restoring the voting rights of ex-felons, and changing hiring practices that currently require applicants to list criminal activity.

“Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, it is an injustice system,” Obama said at the conference.

Cover image: Wikimedia