John Oliver Takes On How Bail Hoses the Poor ‘Regardless of Guilt’


Despite his own insistence that he’s not a journalist (and that his program isn’t journalism), John Oliver tackled yet another troubling issue that probably never would have come to his viewers’ attention had Last Week Tonight not featured it. The topic? The bail system in the United States, how criminal justice practitioners abuse it, and the harm it causes to the poor.

Oliver opens the segment with the story of Miguel, a man who spent time in Rikers Island because he couldn’t afford the $1,000 bail set by a judge for his arrest for driving with a suspended license:

Now whether he was guilty or not, the fact is a non-violent offender spent time in Rikers because he didn’t have $1,000. And this is a systemic problem. Increasingly bail has become a way to lock up the poor regardless of guilt. Miguel was a family man who posed no danger to society whatsoever, and he was stuck at Rikers.

His point of comparison? Millionaire Robert Durst, the accused murder and subject of The Jinx whose bail in the clip used was set at $250,000. Durst’s response to that? “Goodbye $250,000, goodbye jail, I’m out!” It’s a strong emotional pull set against a heavily-reported media fiasco for sure, but the inherent inconsistencies between the two cases is obvious.

Throughout the remainder of the bit, Oliver details several other examples, recent and past reporting specials that studied the matter — including a news special from 1964 — and reality television spectacles like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Why the latter? Because as Oliver concludes, it’s because of shows like Dog that Americans view justice as they do — hardcore ass-kicking that’s always well-deserved.

Check out the clip below, courtesy of HBO:

[Image via screengrab]

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