John Oliver is an American treasure. Sorry, United Kingdom. We are claiming him henceforth. His comedy is taking an issue, exposing the glaring stupidity and tossing out a giant wtf banner.

Sunday night’s episode took on an aspect American criminal justice system that impacts the poor disproportionately. Bail. OK, the whole system is stacked against the poor, but the segment only had 17-minutes.

“Increasingly, bail has become a way to lock up the poor regardless of guilt,” Oliver said. “The problem is the frequency and cost of bail have risen dramatically, and it’s disproportionately hurting the poor.”

Backing up, bail is the amount of money someone charged with a crime has to pay to get released from jail while awaiting their trial. The idea is the amount a defendant’s bail is set at is used as financial incentive for people to show up for court dates.

Defendants posting bail can get their money back if they show up and are deemed not guilty. If the person is a no-show, they lose the money and get a few extra charges added to their record.

A cursory glance at the system shows the wide inequality it creates. Wealthy individuals post bail with ease, while the poor are left scrambling for the money or languish in jail awaiting trial.

During the segment, John Oliver cited a stat from New Jersey (2013) showing 40% of the state’s inmates were in jail because they were unable to post bail while awaiting trial. How long was the average incarceration time? Ten months.

Let that sink in. There are American citizens sitting in jail for an average of ten months without being convicted of a crime.

Then there are the people who plead guilty even if they are not to simply avoid jail. Way to rack up impressive conviction rates district attorneys.

The reason for the guilty pleas are most cannot afford to be in jail. Some live in shelters where if you’re not there every night, you lose your spot. Others have jobs, families to support, etc.

Meanwhile, you have people like Robert Durst. I’m sure you remember that whack job. The one in the bathroom saying ‘I killed them all, of course?’ He cuts a check for $250,000 and goes about his business. Golf clap American judicial system.

Can someone scrape off the bs on the U.S. Supreme Court building. Equal Justice Under Law? Engrave ‘Money Talks.’ At least have one fact up there.

And then there are the bondsmen. Yep, Dog the Bounty Hunter…

bail system john oliver

Oliver goes right after them. Say you are charged with a crime and turn to the bondsmen system to post bail. Even if you are found innocent, you owe the bondsman 10-15 percent of your total bond.

The whole purpose of the industry is to target poor people. It does give rise to a reality TV series. I guess that’s the silver lining if you’re looking for one.

What’s a possible solution to the broken system? John Oliver turns to Washington, DC of all places. It’s here the federal courts set bail amounts based off what the defendant can afford unless they are a flight risk.

Whoa, I’m sitting down. A federal court in our nation’s capital making sense? The District’s Pretrial Services Agency lays out its impressive record.

In Washington, DC, nearly 88% of defendants are released non-financially. In the rare cases where judges set financial bond (4%), it is nearly always cash bond. In our system, there’s no need for a commercial bondsman with the “extra financial incentive” to ensure a defendant’s appearance. Over the past five years, 88% of released defendants on average have made all scheduled court appearances and 88% on average remained arrest free while in the community pending trial. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of released defendants were not rearrested on a violent crime while in the community.

Damn it, that’s nowhere near stupid enough to work nationwide. It makes too much sense. Not holding people in jail for a crime they are presumed innocent of until proven guilty?

Come now. We live in America. Equality leads to choices. Choices to freedom. Freedom to… You get the idea.

The segment checks in just over 17 minutes. I know, Internet ADD. Trust me, it’s worth a watch.


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