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.

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

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


Support our journalism

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