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.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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