John Oliver Explains How America’s Bail System Destroys the Lives of the Poor


In the United States, an overwhelming number of defendants spend time behind bars simply because they can’t afford to pay bail—a situation that disproportionately hurts the poor and leads many people to plead guilty to crimes just to avoid jail time, regardless of guilt.

“The frequency and cost of bail have risen dramatically,” John Oliver explained on Sunday. “In 2013, an analysis of New Jersey’s jail population found that nearly 40 percent were being held solely because they couldn’t meet the terms of their bail.”

“If 40 percent of a group don’t meet the basic criteria to be there, that should change your perception of what that group is.”

But even a short stint in jail, oftentimes the only option for the poor, can end up ruining lives for a long time after.

“Jail can do for your actual life what being in a marching band can do for your social life,” Oliver said. “Even if you’re just in for a little while it can destroy you.”

This is made all the more depressing, considering pre-trail services exist and offer a better and even cheaper alternative. Watch Oliver’s segment below:

For more on the shady, highly lucrative bail industry, read our in-depth report here.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.