In historic move, President Obama to visit federal prison for Vice documentary

President Obama

President Obama will visit El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma for a Vice documentary, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.

(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, a landmark move that will be documented by Vice for HBO. 

Obama will tour Oklahoma’s El Reno correctional institution, a medium-security facility that houses 1,300 inmates, next week with Vice founder Shane Smith. They’ll participate in the docuseries’ special on America’s criminal justice system, tour the facility, and meet with prisoners, staff and law enforcement officials, according to the White House and a statement from HBO.

The special is set to air on HBO this fall and offers “an in-depth look into the dire impact the current criminal justice system is having on millions of Americans,” the network said Friday. The interviews that take place during the tour will be included in a broader HBO documentary looking at America’s prison system.

The U.S. is home to 5% of the world’s population but detains 25% of the global prison population, the network said. The U.S. prison population has risen 700% since 1970.


“There’s an emerging consensus in this country — on both the right and the left — that the way we treat criminal offenders is utterly broken and weakening our society in profound ways,” Smith said. “Visiting El Reno with President Obama ... will give our viewers a firsthand look into how the president is thinking about this problem, from the policy level down to one on one conversations with the men and women living this reality. It’s going to be fascinating.”

The commander-in-chief has repeatedly appeared in unexpected venues to campaign for his views, including Marc Maron’s WTF podcast last month and Zach Galifianakis’ web series “Between Two Ferns” last year to stump for the Affordable Care Act.

Vice, currently in its third season, is executive produced by Smith, Bill Maher, its chief creative officer Eddy Moretti and BJ Levin. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria serves as a consultant.

Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.


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