Brow Beat

John Oliver Breaks Down America’s Crazily Dysfunctional Prisoner Re-Entry Process

John Oliver has dedicated several of Last Week Tonight’s in-depth investigations this year to the harrowing aspects of our criminal justice system, including mandatory minimums, the bail system, public defenders, and municipal violations. On Sunday’s episode, he focused on what happens when prisoners leave jail. His findings are, as usual, not great.

Although movies and TV often depict a prisoner’s release as a triumphant new beginning, the reality is often a lot scarier—and might explain why the national average of recidivism looms at 50 percent. Upon release, prisoners can find themselves in the middle of nowhere with close to nothing. Their offenses can get them banned from government food benefits, public housing, voting, drivers licenses and more. Job opportunities can be very limited—especially as many applications ask about felony convictions. Finally, Oliver interviews former prisoner Bilal Chatman, who defied the odds to find success and stability after jail, and asks him what he would like people to know about him aside from his past as a prisoner. Said Chatman: “You know, I grow tomatoes.”