“Our drug laws are a little draconian, and a lot racist”
John Oliver devoted 17 minutes of his show Sunday to examining an American prison system he said was racist, oblivious to rape and increasingly run by private contractors.
“That's true. We have over 2 million behind bars right now,” Oliver explained. “We have more prisoners at the moment than China. Than China. We don't have more anything than China — other than of course debt to China.”
Pointing out that America's prison population has expanded eight-fold since 1970, Oliver stated, “The only other thing that has grown at that rate, since the seventies, is varieties of Cheerios.”
Oliver called out the dismantling of mental health services, mandatory minimum sentencing and laws that target African-Americans. He noted that more than half of the people in federal prison and a quarter of those in state prison are incarcerated on drug charges.
“On the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation's drug problem, so that's good,” he said, to laughter from his audience. “But on the other hand, our drug laws are a little draconian, and a lot racist.”
“While white people and African-Americans use drugs at about the same amount, a study has shown that African-Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses at up to ten times the rate for some utterly known reason,” he added.
He reworked a hacky standup bit: “It reminds me of a joke. Black people who commit drug offenses, they go to jail like this.” He mimed being handcuffed.
“Whereas white people,” he said, “don't go to jail at all.”
He noted that so many people are in prison that Sesame Street has to explain the idea of incarceration to children, and sitcoms, movies and even cartoons routinely make jokes about prison rape. He noted that one in 25 prisoners reported being sexually victimized in the last year.
“If every time you bought two dozen donuts, one of them had been raped, you'd be pretty upset,” he said. “Those are pastries. Prisoners are people.”
Oliver also noted that prisons are increasingly run by private corporations, at least one of which told investors that prisons were a good investment because of high recidivism.
How could Oliver cheer himself up after all that? He spent a little time with puppets.
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