Brow Beat

John Oliver Explains, With Lots of Jokes, Why We Need to Overhaul the Bail System

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver delivered a typically incisive report on the U.S. bail bond system, and why it’s unfair to poor Americans. It’s hard to disagree when Oliver points out that our current bail system allowed one man to sit in Rikers Island for driving with an expired license, while millionaire heir Robert Durst easily dropped $250,000 and skipped town even though he was accused of murder.

When faced with bail amounts they can’t afford, Oliver explains, people have three bad options. They can sit in jail, often putting their jobs or even housing at risk. They can plead guilty just to get out—something that Oliver notes actually happens fairly regularly. Or they can turn to private bail bondsmen, who send bounty hunters after those who miss their court date. (Remember Dog the Bounty Hunter? The way we’ve turned this dangerous system into entertainment is a sign of just how much we’ve come to accept it.) As with many problems Oliver tackles, the problem isn’t that we don’t know that the system is bad, but that we simply haven’t bothered to fix it. But Oliver has a pitch for what a reality show about our bail system should actually look like.