President Obama's Historic Prison Visit

President Obama visited the El Reno Federal Penitentiary in Oklahoma today, marking the first time a sitting president has visited a federal prison.
14:20 | 07/16/15

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Transcript for President Obama's Historic Prison Visit
President Obama looking to tackle discourage of mass incarceration. And he's going to prison. To prove his point. He's visiting the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma to highlight badly needed reforms to the criminal justice system. It marks the first time a sitting president has visited. A federal prison. On the list that her in new York and just this morning the president spoke at El Reno federal penitentiary in pierce. What to say. I. We're. All. Oh. A federal penitentiary. This is part of our with the highlight. Well the challenges and opportunities that we face looked at civil justice and that if you heard me speak. On Tuesday Philadelphia about that. The United States accounts for 5% of the world's population would four point 5%. Of the world events. And that represents a huge surge sends. 1980. Primary driver. This mass incarceration. Phenomenon that is. Our drug lords. Mandatory minimum sentence and around revels. We have to consider. Whether this is smartest way us. Old people. This Boston. Year. And people whom you. Tolerance or. Wrote. Many of them. States. We keep our communities. On the other we're looking at while out. Offenders. Bulls. It. It is top. Family members. Have been involved and Rockford. We have to reconsider whether one year for year. Life sentences for crimes best way. So well. Here it over and over some actual work that's being done inside. This facility. To provide job training. College degrees. Drug counselor. The question is. Not only. Make sure that we sustain those programs here in the present but how we make sure. Those and other institutional supports. There were kids and teenagers before they did civil justice system. There are other ways for us to divert. Young people make mistakes are like we've got an opportunity to make a difference that time weren't overall violent crime rates of abruptly. At the same times incarcerations last year dropped for the first time forty years. My hope is that. If we can keep on working the evidence people at the facts. Figure out what works. That we conservative. Save taxpayers money keep our streets. And perhaps most importantly. Keep families intact and break this cycle in which young. Particularly young people of color also. Home. Tentative approval justice system that makes it harder for them. To ever get a job and ever. These. Forces. Of the school. So a lot of express appreciation to everybody. Make this I want to be special two. Or prison guards Vick got without. And most of them. Exemplary fashion. One of the things that we talked about is how we can continue to improve conditions in prisons this hazard. Outstanding institution. Within the system. And yet we've they've got enormous so for items. Just to look for the so we're because of overcrowding typically we might there. Three people. House. The so it looks rework. Fifteen. There. Three overall men in the month but themselves. There's been some improvement now we are too. But. Overcrowding like something that has to be addressed. As that says that. Gang activity. Sexual assault inside his prisons those are all things because and so we're also going to be consulting group. Prison guards wardens. And others to see. How we can. Make some political reforms. A lot of the stores and at state levels so what. Goal is that we start seeing some improvements at the federal level. And then we'll have been able to see states. Across the country pick up. The top and there are instances that we whales. Both sensible reforms wolves this. Make sure that were seeing what works. And build off that. Say so but. Bob. Your best thing would these. Would be six or individuals. And I took this before. When they describe. They are you. And their child. These are. These are young people who. Made mistakes that are that it from the mistakes. I've made and mistakes a lot of you guys. The differences they did not have. Because the support structures. The second chances and the resources. That would allow them to survival textbooks. And you know I think we have a tendency sometimes to. Almost. Take for granted or think it's normal. So many young people. And up. For all of us it's not rule. As not what happens in the what is normal is teenagers don't stupid but. What is normal lives. Young people. Make mistakes. And we've got real distinguish between. Dangerous individuals. Who need to be in stated personal. Verses. Young people or parliament which. They aren't that. If given different opportunities. Different visualize what. Could be thriving way we. That's what strikes. They are what what was done. And and that I think is something that we all of them. Are. Again President Obama has speaking today at the El Reno federal penitentiary in Oklahoma on why reform in sentencing and rehabilitation. Are needed. Now let's bring in ABC's crime and terror analyst Brad Garrett Brad. Based on what you just heard how effective was he in making his point that reforms are needed and that our criminal justice system. May be broken. Well maybe not broken but certainly needs to be adjusted. You've got this whole issue and he touched upon it. Mandatory sentences in some cases. May inventory life sentences were judges particularly in the federal system. Didn't have any choice but to give someone like they may be didn't want to give life to. So this kind of boils channels but to reasonableness. As you look and assess. At people's involvement in particular in drug cases. Yet you really have to get down to the core yes. They may have been part of some group yes that may have been selling drugs at the time that they were arrested they had a gun on them. What happens in these charges is there are enhancements. Kicking and if you haven't gotten. If it's tied it with a bigger organization. That's connected interstate. All these things accusations and come up to a certain number and your stuck with in the inventory like certain so. Clearly there are people. And I have been involved in investigating them that deserved life sentences were very long sentences. What the president is suggesting is people that are to lower end of that spectrum. Who may be have a drug habit we got caught up in selling drugs. And as a result we ended up with the big sentence. Whether it be in the state system in the federal system and as he mentioned. Obviously the vast majority of inmates you've got. Roughly. A little less than a million and a half people in prisons and other almost 800000 to a million people and county jails. That. That those numbers really need to come down. And it's expensive he mentioned numbers and what it costs billions of dollars a year to house people. I will tell you from a crime standpoint. Here's a bit of diminishing returns. Once you reach a certain number of years. Crime are by and large is a young person's game. And so you know if you lock somebody up between your 22. By the time they're in their thirties. There's lessens the chance potentially go go commit crime now. Parole. Revocation rates are quite high. And so you need you have to look at that but what we need to get these numbers down we need to really only incarcerated people. Long term. Who deserved to be incarcerated lawn care. Speaking of numbers the president noted that since 1980 we've had a huge surge in mass incarcerations hero in this country. Now why is bad is it because there are laws mandating minimum sentencing for certain kinds. Happened is that. Legislators. Decided. An I don't I'm not suggesting this is wrong that we were to back then too soft on crime. So as a result many state. I governments and the federal government. Change the laws to increase sentences. Substantially. In if you commit certain crimes. It's mandatory about how about how much time you have to serve. So there's now a rethinking of that yes. People do deserve are some people deserve a certain amount of time. But these ideas 304050. Life sentence terms. For crimes it probably don't justify that that number that's what he's really targeting that that you you need to think about that. If they're a non violent offender. Than think about it it's a first offense and they need not say what Chris. Giving them a chance to see if they can make it if that doesn't working doesn't working and always. But to jail so. It's really finessing assistant and obviously in some cases state and federal in changing. Law. And finally Brad giving them a chance along those lines is there any danger though in letting these individual of the nine violent individuals as the president that it. Who committed the so called. Soft crimes back into society. There's always a danger when you release people and will a percentage of them that they decide to cut their sentences get in trouble again. The answer is yes. And so. That that some sort of a reality at the deal with the balance is what it costs how much time they got. How much crime they commit if they are released. Sort of as a balancing act. It's not perfect as you're talking about human behavior. But what the president I think it core at his. Discussions. The reason I think he went to El Reno. Was to tell us that look. There are sentences that have been handed out that are unreasonable they're just too long. And they need to be shortened to give people at least a chance. And it doesn't work then we can always lock them up. But let's look at backing isn't backing this up a little bit on time I think you're gonna see it happen if nothing else even super conservative. State legislatures are gonna start backing up this is just too expenses. Just too expensive and we shall see how this. Plays out what think you once again ABC's crime and terror analyst Brad Garrett joining us with his insight we you can keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news happened starting this story for explosive updates on the go. Analyst at her in New York. I.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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