Brow Beat

John Oliver Explores the Dangerous, Coronavirus-Spreading Conditions Inside Prisons and Jails

On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver turned his attention to yet another facet of the coronavirus crisis: the way it’s ravaging prisons and jails across the country. According to a New York Times report that Oliver cited, the five largest known clusters of the virus are in correctional facilities. And with more than 10,000 protesters having been arrested across the United States after taking to the streets to protest police brutality, the danger created by officials’ lackadaisical approach to controlling the virus within those institutions only seems to be spreading.

As Oliver explains, prisons and jails have instituted woefully inadequate and uneven measures to keep incarcerated people safe, like locking down prisoners for 23½ hours per day, instructing them to sleep head to foot in cells the size of closets, and hanging up signs extolling the values of hand-washing while charging for soap. And, as Oliver noted, contrary to statements from elected officials that outbreaks in correctional institutions are confined, not everyone who is in a prison is in prison. Of the 445,000 people who work in prison and jails, Oliver said “we might as well be handing them coronavirus gift bags as they leave work everyday and head back out into the community.”