John Oliver Explains How Cruel Mandatory Minimum Laws Ruin Lives


Earlier this month, President Obama granted clemency to 46 nonviolent drug offenders, which saw the largest number of presidential commutations granted in a single day since the 1960’s. As John Oliver noted on the latest Last Week Tonight, the move was particularly significant because each offender was subjected to harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require low-level offenders to be locked up regardless of the crime’s context.

“Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime,” Oliver explained in his take-down of unfair sentencing laws on Sunday. “Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick.

“The truth is that mandatory minimums didn’t just not work, they ruined lives.”

While failing to reduce crime, mandatory minimum laws also disproportionately target minority groups across the country.

“There should be a lot more pardons and commutations,” Oliver said. “But if we really want to address this problem permanently, we need states and the federal government, not just to repeal mandatory minimums going forward, but to also pass laws so that existing prisoners can apply for retroactively reduced sentences.”

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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