President Obama Heading to Prison for HBO 'Vice' Special

The first-ever presidential visit to a federal prison is part of a broader documentary on the state of the criminal justice system.
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President Obama and Shane Smith

President Obama is paying a first-of-its-kind visit to a federal prison for an upcoming HBO documentary.

The White House and Vice announced Friday that the commander-in-chief will go to Oklahoma's El Reno federal prison the week of July 13 for a special Vice documentary set to air on the pay cable network this fall.

"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," said Vice founder Shane Smith, who's also hosting the special. "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.”

Obama and Smith plan to tour the facility, meet with its prisoners and staff and other law enforcement officials. The minimum security facility houses 1,300 inmates who've been convicted of violating federal law. 

The conversations and the tour will be part of a bigger Vice special focusing on the impacts of crime and and punishment in America — which is currently home to 25 percent of the world's prison population but only 5 percent of its total population.

It's another unconventional media move for the president, who's been choosing fewer mainstream outlets for interviews in the past year. Most recently he sat down for comedian Marc Maron's podcast after booking other big appearances with Vox Media and BuzzFeed.

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