August 05, 2019

John Oliver examines U.S. prison labor, finds real-life Shawshank Redemption villains
About 60 percent of people in prison actually have jobs, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "In fact, prisons are basically operated by the inmates." But "there are some major differences" between jobs inside prisons and on the outside, starting with wages, which average 63 cents per hour in prisons, he said. Some states pay inmates nothing for work they are compelled to do. If that sounds like slave labor, Oliver might not entirely disagree. "Look, I know to many, inmates are not a naturally sympathetic group of people," as Fox News pundits have illustrated, Oliver said. But while their "crime doesn't pay" argument may sound persuasive, "the truth is, when you combine the low-to-nonexistent wages that prisoners get paid with the surprisingly high costs that they and their families can incur while they're inside, the current system can wind up costing all of us." One problem with most prisoners "doing routine labor for little to no money" is it "can lead to them being seen less as humans paying their debt to society and more as a pool of virtually free labor," Oliver said, showing one Louisiana sheriff effectively "saying some people need to stay behind bars because they're too valuable as a source of free labor — which is exactly the same plan as the villain in The Shawshank Redemption. Normally to qualify as a Stephen King villain, you have to be something way less stupid, like an evil car or a guy who forgot to wear a coat." "The current system of low wages and high cost is clearly no good for anyone but for the companies who are somehow managing to massively profit from this," Oliver said, focusing on Securus Technologies and its stranglehold on prisoner interactions with loved ones. "That is just evil," he said. "'Machine that makes money by stopping people from seeing their families' sounds like an item at the top of Satan's Amazon wish list." (There's NSFW content.)

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