-- President Obama wants to change how you think about prison and he's going behind bars to do it.
Obama is visiting Federal Correctional Institution El Reno, a medium-security prison in Oklahoma, as part of an effort to push reforms to the nation's criminal justice system. It's the first time a sitting American president has ever visited a federal penitentiary.
“While the people in our prisons have made some mistakes — and sometimes big mistakes — they are also Americans,” Obama said Tuesday in a speech before the NAACP convention in Philadelphia.
“Our criminal justice system isn't as smart as it should be. It's not keeping us as safe as we should be. It is not as fair as it should be,” he said. “We need to do something about it.”
So what exactly does the President want to change? Everything from pre-school and sentencing to jokes about prison.
Softer Sentences for 'Softer' Crimes
Obama has called for reducing or even eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes and giving prosecutors more discretion over what kinds of punishment to seek. On Monday,the president commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders, including 14 of whom were sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent drug crimes. That brings his total number to 89 commutations, more than the last four presidents combined.
“Their punishments did not fit the crime and if they were sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would have already served their time,” Obama said in an online statement Monday.
Job Training Behind Bars
Also on the President’s agenda is making available to inmates more training programs inside prisons, as well as opportunities for work and rehabilitation after release. The goal, according to the White House, is to make sure former convicts can once again get a job, go back to school, or access housing, loans, or credit after serving their time.
“Our prisons should be a place where we can train people for skills that can help them find a job, not train them to become more hardened criminals,” Obama told the NAACP. “We have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society, that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.”
To that end, the White House is endorsing for legislation introduced in the Senate, boosting job, education, and housing programs — and taking some more unorthodox approaches.
Lay Off the Prison Rape Jokes
“We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn't be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That's no joke. These things are unacceptable,” he said Tuesday.
Better Preschool, Less Chance of Prison?
ABC News's Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.