President Obama made the first-ever Presidential visit to a federal prison for last night’s “VICE” special that took on America’s broken criminal justice system, offering an in-depth look into the dire impact the current criminal justice system is having on millions of Americans – especially black Americans. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the term “prison industrial complex,” which also happens to be the title of a recorded 1997 speech by Angela Davis, later released as an audio CD that served as the basis for her book of the same title.
America is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population – a prison population that has risen 700 percent since 1970, according to Vice/HBO.
President Obama visited the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma and participated in the special, making him the very first sitting president ever to visit a federal prison.
Obama and VICE founder Shane Smith, host of the special, toured the facility and met with prisoners, prison staff, and law enforcement officials.
The interviews are all part of a broader HBO documentary looking at the pervasive impacts of America’s approach to crime and imprisonment, chronicling the many interlocking pieces of the sprawling system, from prisoners and their families to the judiciary and community reformers.
The special is the latest in VICE’s ongoing coverage of what’s becoming a major civil rights and reform agenda in the United States.
VICE Founder Shane Smith said, “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. Visiting El Reno with President Obama – the first-ever visit to a federal prison by a sitting president – 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.”
Titled “Fixing The System,” the special aired last night on HBO. For those without HBO, you’re in luck, because the network has now made the full hour-long special available online for you to watch for free! I’ve embedded it below, followed by Angela Davis’ full “prison industrial complex” presentation to supplement, especially since the VICE special made no reference to it that I recall: