This week’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a real eye-opener. Oliver, a staunch advocate for income equality, took on the American justice system and it’s unfair treatment of the poor.
The issue Oliver tackles is bail. Bail in this country is used not as a way to secure people from fleeing prosecution, but as a bargaining chip for guilty pleas. Non-violent offenders are being placed in jail with bails set so high they have little to no chance of getting out.
That’s where the DA steps in and offers relief. Plead guilty and get out, plead not guilty and stay here awaiting trial.
More than 38% of the people in jail in New Jersey are there because they can’t make bail. As Oliver points out, that staggering number has to change the way you look at a demographic:
If 40% of Girl Scouts were middle-aged men, you might reconsider buying their cookies.
For the working poor, an arrest is devastating. Police know it; district attorneys know it. Without the resources to hire quality legal counsel or make bail, an arrest can ruin a life almost instantly. The working poor have jobs that will fire them for missing a couple of days; bail bonds can cost a month’s pay. With their life on the line, pleading guilty so some DA can increase his conviction rate and some cop can get credit for a good collar can seem like the only option.
Then of course they get to check the little box that says “yes” under “have you ever been convicted of a crime.”
It can be even worse for the homeless or those struggling to get back on their feet. They may live in shelters or transitional housing that will release their beds after a night or two.
Non-violent offenders are often taken into custody by power-hungry cops. The poor are routinely targeted for unnecessary interrogation. If you’re a minority your chances of being arrested in a case of mistaken identity increases exponentially.
In our society, where money absolutely can buy happiness, a lack of it can also cost you your freedom.
Watch John Oliver expose the American justice system’s war on the poor.
Featured image via screen capture