On Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit a federal prison. His visit, intended to raise awareness of the need for criminal justice reform, was preceded earlier this week by a speech he delivered at NAACP’s annual convention echoing that same message.

In his remarks, Obama cited a saddening statistic: “The U.S. is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.” The incarceration rate in the U.S. is four times higher than authoritarian, anti-democratic nations like China.

Too many people behind bars is a problem we know all too well in Illinois. The state has one of the top-ten largest correctional populations in the country, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And it’s tearing apart families; 62 percent of prison inmates in Illinois have one or more children. These kids grow up in broken homes, scarred for life by an absent parent. They’re usually less successful in adulthood, as a result.

These facts beg the question: Does each person in prison really belong there?

Read the rest on the Chicago Sun-Times here.