Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 1, Episode 11 - Incarceration in the United States - full transcript

John talks about Gaza (but mostly Anderson Cooper) and about Malaysia Airlines flight 17, then discusses prison incarcerations in America and sings with muppets from Sesame Street.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome, welcome, welcome to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver.

Thank you so much for being with us,

and first off--first off a quick recap of the week.

In a nutshell, it has been fucking depressing.

Most of the week was dominated by the conflict in Gaza, which

has been escalating sharply over the past couple of days.

As of the taping of this comedy show, 18 Israeli

soldiers have been killed, as well as over 400 Palestinians,

the vast majority of which
appear to be civilians.

This whole story is
depressingly familiar,

and perhaps the best way
of illustrating that is

with CNN's Anderson Cooper
because this--this was

his report from last week.

Hamas, which controls
Gaza, isn't backing down.

Its rockets are reaching
deeper into Israel.

Now, if that rings a bell
with you, it could be

because you're
remembering this.

The number of rockets being
fired from Gaza City, from

the central area in Gaza
City, toward Israel--

Here's the thing.

That report was from 2012,
not that you'd know it,

because Anderson Cooper looks
and sounds exactly the same,

much as he did in 2009 when he
was asking exactly the same

question that he's been
asking all this week.

I mean, the Palestinians
blame Israelis

for killing civilians.

Israelis say, "Look. You
know, we're targeting military

"installations, Hamas
installations, but they are

"hiding weapons in
people's homes.

They are enmeshed within
the civilian population."

Who's right here?

Why is CNN even wasting money
having him report on this when

they could just literally
rerun his coverage from 5

years ago and no
one would notice?

Somehow--somehow, in 5 years,
this situation has not improved,

and his face has lost none
of its virile

yet tender magnetism.

In fact, you can even go
back to 2006, when yet again,

Israel and the Palestinians
were trading rocket strikes,

and guess who was there.

More than about 100 katyusha
rockets and mortars fell

in and around this one town.

How does he still
look the same?

Look, this was me back in 2006.

Time has ravaged me.

I have been ravaged by time,

and I have spent zero
time in Gaza.

If this week has taught us one
thing, it's that the Middle

East is truly the Anderson
Cooper's face of geopolitical

disputes in that, in defiance
of all appeals to reason

and human decency,
it never fucking changes.

I actually think that in his
attic, Anderson Cooper has

a painting of himself as
an old man in a peaceful

Middle East.

Now, the Gaza dispute has been
so depressing, it was enough

to make you wish for any
story to distract us.

Unfortunately, on Thursday
we got one when, for unknown

reasons, Ukrainian rebels
apparently used Russian

weapons to shoot
down an airliner.

It was clearly an
international tragedy, and you

would think it might cause
Vladimir Putin to do some

serious soul searching or at
least some soul manufacturing,

but instead, he went
a different way.

MAN: Russian president
Vladimir Putin says Ukraine is

to blame, saying, quote,
"This tragedy would not have

happened if there had
been peace on that land."

Yeah, maybe, but it's also
worth noting this wouldn't

have happened if you, Vladimir
Putin, hadn't given the rebels

those fucking missiles.

What great outcome were
you anticipating from

that, exactly?

Because no story in history
has ever ended, "And then,

"an assortment of angry rebels
were given military-grade

"weapons, they used them
responsibly, and we all lived

happily ever after."

That has never happened ever.

There are so many upsetting
questions surrounding this

tragedy, from "Why did Putin
give them those weapons?"

to "Why did they shoot
down that plane?"

to "Can you please
change the subject?

"This is supposed to
be a comedy show.

The Leftovers was less
depressing than this."

But one of the most baffling
questions of all involves

the airline in question,
Malaysian Airlines.

The question is, why would
they continue flying over

a known war zone where,
in fact, there have been 3

shoot-downs in the past week?

It's a very simple answer,
I'm afraid: a little bit

of lackadaisical behavior, and
secondly, it's less fuel cost.

Hold on.

If it's true that some
airlines choose to fly over

a war zone to save money, then
I'd like to take a moment to

address the world's airlines
and say, "Don't do that!

"Look, you've already got
us paying surcharges

"for everything: $25 to check a
bag, $5.00 for headphones, $10

"to watch Katy Perry: Part of
Me with your $5.00 headphones

"that do not work.

"So, please, do feel free
to offer us the option

"at check-in of a 35-dollar
surcharge to steer clear

of any active
fucking war zones."

"What do you think, honey?

Should we do it?"

"Let's treat ourselves.

We're on vacation."

And finally, thankfully, we
turn to some lighter news:

crippling gambling
addiction in Singapore.

At the start of this year's
World Cup, which, of course,

Germany won, Singapore
produced a powerful

anti-gambling commercial.

See if you can spot
its one fatal flaw.

BOY: I really can't wait
for the World Cup.

Who do you think
is gonna win it?

My dad said
Brazil will win.

How about you, Andy?

I hope Germany
will win.


My dad bet all my
savings on them.

Yeah, but Germany won, kid!

Your dad's the greatest!

He's the best!

Hey, why the long face?

That kid is now the
richest sad person since

Kristen Stewart.

Now clearly, clearly, this was
a little awkward, so Singapore

actually created a second ad,
where the boy is asked, "Your

"dad's team won.

Did you get your
savings back?"

to which he responds,
"No. Dad never stops.

He wants to bet
one more time."

But, yeah, of course he does.

The guy's on a hot streak,
kid, and you know what?

The only thing that can
stop that is your negative

attitude, you ungrateful
little shit.

Now, interestingly, Singapore
actually has a long history

of blowing it with their
anti-gambling advertisements.

Just take a look.

I hope the Sea Hawks
win the Super Bowl.

My dad bet all our
savings on them.

Good luck.

There's no way a second-year
quarterback can beat future

Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning.

Your dad's
a complete zero.

I'm gonna
be homeless

and die in
a shopping cart.

What's the matter, Andy?

My dad bet all our savings again
on California Chrome.

To win this year's Triple Crown?

No. He has to win the Kentucky Derby
and the Preakness

but then get fourth place in
the Belmont Stakes.

Wow. That's
a very specific bet.

I know. It's never
gonna happen.

Fabricio, can you move my hot-stone
massage to 3:30?

Thank you, Fabricio.


Guys, my dad's
out of control.

Shut up, Andy.

Yeah, shut up.

Wait, this time my dad bet everything
we have that

in the first half of the second week of July,
news will

break that Ryan Gosling will have impregnated
Eva Mendes

and that they're expecting a baby
in October.

Your dad is the best!

BOY: Gambling is awesome!


The big lesson from Singapore
is, gambling is terrible

unless Dad is
really feeling it.

And now this.

ANNOUNCER: And now, "Last Week
Tonight" asks, how is this

still a thing?

This week, the
Commonwealth Games.

How is this still a thing?

If you live in certain parts
of the world, this week you're

looking forward to one thing.

WOMAN: We've got the
Commonwealth Games coming up.

The Commonwealth Games.

WOMAN: Commonwealth Games.
MAN: Commonwealth Games.

the friendly games.

ANNOUNCER: In America, we not
only don't know what the hell

they're talking about, we
couldn't tell you if you

offered us $2,000.

That would be the
Commonwealth Games.

ANNOUNCER: Here's a question.

What the fuck are the
Commonwealth Games, other than

the winner of the Creepiest
Mascot on Earth competition?

Well, imagine the Olympics
without the United States,

China, and Russia.

Then imagine a track meet

dominated by sprinters
from Wales.

MAN: Wales!

ANNOUNCER: And you have
the Commonwealth Games,

a competition that's only
open to members

of the British Commonwealth.

The Games began in the
1930s, just as the British

Empire was falling flat on
its face, and for some reason

continue to this day.

Once every 4 years, the world
is treated to the spectacle

of the Queen showing her
full emotional range, from

irritated in Victoria to
damp in Manchester to bored

in Melbourne.

But why would she be bored?

The Commonwealth Games feature
all the world's top sports,

such as squash, lawn bowls,
competitive mountain biking,

and netball, which is
basically what basketball

would be if you didn't have
the rights to play basketball.

As many of these games are
British-derived, it's no

wonder that England has soared all the way to the top

of second place of

the medal count.

And for non sports fans,
the Games also offer opening

and closing ceremonies that
speak to our sense of wonder,

specifically the wonder of
what an off-Broadway version

of the Olympic ceremonies
would look like.

So tonight we salute this
week's Commonwealth Games,

the historic display of a
once-mighty nation gathering

together the countries it lost
and finding a way to lose to

them once more.

So the next time

you're on "Jeopardy!"

and the answer is

"the Commonwealth Games,"

the only possible question is,
how is this still a thing?

OK, moving on.

Moving on.

Our main story tonight
concerns something Americans

simply can't get
enough of: prison.

We love to be entertained by
it, from "Orange is the New

Black" to seemingly MSNBC's
entire weekend programming to

the TNT classic "Tim Robbins Stands Shirtless in the Rain:

the Movie."

We love prison so much, a
shocking number of Americans

are currently inside one, as
we learned last week during

a House Judiciary
Committee hearing.

Our nation now has the
greatest number of prisoners

of any country in the world.

Nearly one in every 100
adults in America is

in prison or jail.

That's true.

We have over two million
people behind bars right now.

We have more prisoners at the
moment than China--than China.

We don't have more of anything
than China, other than,

of course, debt to China.

And it didn't always
used to be this way.

Our prison population has
expanded eightfold since 1970.

The only other thing that's
grown at that rate since

the seventies is
varieties of Cheerios.

Fuck you, fruity Cheerios!

You're trumped-up Froot
Loops, and you know it.

And look, look.

Our prison population
has exploded for a number

of reasons, from the dismantling of our

mental-health system to
mandatory minimum sentence

laws which help explain why
97% of people plead guilty to

federal crimes rather than
risk going to trial to,

of course, drugs.

Because half the people in
federal prison are there

on drug charges, and it
accounts for a quarter

of admissions to
state prisons.

And of course it's tricky to
know how to feel about all

this because on the one
hand, the war on drugs has

completely solved our nation's
drug problem, so that's good.

But on the other hand, our
drug laws do seem to be

a little draconian and a lot
racist, because while white

people and African Americans
use drugs about the same

amount, a study has found that
African Americans have been

sent to prison for drug
offenses at up to 10 times

the rate for some utterly
known reason.

It reminds me--it
reminds me of a joke.

You know, black people who
commit drug offenses, they go

to jail like this, whereas white people don't go to

jail at all.

In fact, so many people--so
many people are incarcerated

in America right now that it's
become one of the things that

"Sesame Street" has to
explain to children.

My dad is...

my dad is in jail.

When I was about your age,
my dad was incarcerated, too.

Incarcerated is when someone
breaks the law, a grown-up

rule, and then they have to
go to jail or prison.

We will be your friend

We'll help you through

You're not alone

Just think about that.

We now need adorable singing
puppets to explain prison to

children in the same way that
they explain the number 7 or

what the moon is.

And at least "Sesame Street"
is actually talking

about prison.

The rest of us are much
happier completely ignoring it,

perhaps because it's
so easy not to care

about prisoners.

They are by definition
convicted criminals.

In fact, it's so easy not
to care that we are really

comfortable making jokes about
one of the most horrifying

things that can
potentially happen to them.

Go directly to jail.

Do not pass go.

Do not collect $200, and
do not, I repeat, do not

drop the soap.





Don't drop 'em.

You know what?

If we were in prison, you guys
would be, like, my bitches.

We're going to federal
pound-me-in-the-ass prison.

Puss, you got any idea
what they do to eggs

in San Ricardo Prison?

It ain't over easy.



Do you get it?
Do you get it?

The egg is gonna get
fucked against its will.

That's why it's funny.

Wake up your children and
explain that joke to them.

They'll love it.


We are somehow collectively
able to laugh about references

to the fact that 4% of
prisoners reported being

sexually victimized
in the past year.

One in 25.

Now, that might not sound
like a lot, but think of it

like this.

If every time you bought two
dozen doughnuts, one of them

had been raped, you'd be
pretty upset, and those

are pastries.

Prisoners are people.

If you don't know a prisoner,
though, or think that you're

ever likely to become one,
then their safety and health

is not gonna be high on
your list of priorities.

You don't need to know
anything about the conditions

that they live in.

But you know who should know?

Maybe the Director of Federal
Prisons, and yet, watch him

almost comically struggle
to recall a basic detail

about one of the most mentally
excruciating things prisoners

can be subjected to:
solitary confinement.

How big is a cell?

How big is the average
cell in solitary?

You say the average size?

FRANKEN: Cell. Yeah,
the size of the cell.

How big is it?

What is--I'm trying to
get--this is a human thing

we're talking about.

We've got a lot of statistics.

How big is the cell?

The average size of
a cell is...

I guess I'm trying to--you're
looking for the space

of what the--

FRANKEN: Yes, the dimensions
in feet and inches, the size

of the cell that a
person is kept in.

I want to get some
idea of--I don't know.

Am I asking this wrong?

No. No, you're not.

You are not asking it wrong.

As far as I can remember,
you're just asking him what

the size of the
fucking cell is.

But it was a long time ago, and to be fair, he did

eventually get an answer.

The average size should
be equivalent to 6 x 4.

What? 6 x 4?

A couple of things there.

One, that was clearly a guess.

And two, 6 x 4 is
barely an elevator.

That is the length of a
6-foot party sub by the length

of the amount of that party
sub that's left over

the following day because
nobody wants party subs.

People put their
hands all over them.

They're disgusting.

No, that's not the point.

That's not the point.

But thankfully, a few
minutes later, the record

was corrected.

MAN: For the--actually it's
10 x 7 for the cell size.

Ooh. 10 x 7.

Step this way, your highness.

Plenty of room for a ping-pong
table and an imaginary

opponent as your mind
slowly becomes untethered.

What is clear so far is that
we are doing a terrible job

of taking care of people that
it is very easy for all of us

not to care about,
but here's the thing.

Increasingly, we aren't
taking care of them at all.

Private subcontractors have
steadily been taking over

certain services, like the
Aramark Corporation, who

provide food to prisons and
a promise that "With Aramack,

you can expect
more--more savings."

And hey, look.

When you're being thrifty with
food costs, what's the worst

that can happen?

WOMAN: Records show 65
instances where Aramark

employees failed to
provide food or ran out.

vendor Aramark changed recipes

to include cheaper, sometimes
substandard ingredients.

Aramark Correctional Services
made headlines recently after

maggots were found in food
served at prisons here

in Michigan.

That is not good.

The only time when you are
happy to hear the words

"maggots were found" is when
you are a maggot whose family

was lost at sea.

"We floated 3 days on a
piece of bread, but we never

lost hope."

And it's not just
food being privatized.

It's prison health care, too.

Arizona tried that.

Guess how it turned out.

MAN: Medical spending in prisons

dropped by $30 million,

and staffing levels plummeted.

50 people died in Arizona

Department of Corrections

custody in just the first

8 months of this year.

Compare that to 37 deaths in

the previous 2 years combined.

50 deaths?

At this point, you could hire
the people who pretend to be

doctors on "Grey's Anatomy,"
and you would probably have

a lower mortality rate
and a lot more intrigue.

Hmm. Cutting costs has led
to some incredible things

happening in Arizona.

One prisoner had a C-section
in jail, and this is how she

says they treated her.

They decided to use
sugar, kitchen sugar.

What do you mean, they
used kitchen sugar?

The packets, like
McDonald's, the sugar.

They would open it,
pour it inside,

and put gauze over it
and tape it up,

and they had to do
that for, like, 3 weeks.

And they poured them
in your C-section.


Did they tell you why
they were doing that?

One of the doctors
learned it from--

I don't even know.

I don't know.

Basically it's
a home remedy.

MAN: Sugar was used to treat
wounds before the advent

of antibiotics back
in the early 1900s.

Yeah, but then we all decided
it was no longer an acceptable

medical practice, like curing
a child's cough with heroin.

"But look. He's not
coughing anymore."

"Yeah, he's not really doing
much of anything anymore,

and I can't find any
of the good silver."

But look, look.

You will never pay a political
price for treating prisoners

like this woman badly.

You don't even need
to pretend to care.

Here is how one Arizona
lawmaker responded to

her story.

That doesn't sound like
a true allegation.

That sounds ridiculous.

You know, prisoners have
24/7 to think up allegations

and write letters.

I'm not saying that some
of them can't have a basis

in fact, but you've got
to take them with a grain

of salt, or in the case
of the hospital, maybe

a grain of sugar.


Somewhere in hell, Satan
just sharpened his pitchfork

and said to his secretary, "Do
me a favor, Janice, and let me

"know when that guy
gets here, OK?

I just want to be ready."

Many states are
even contracting out

entire prisons.

Nearly 9% of prisons are
currently run by private

firms, like GEO Group and
Corrections Corporation

of America, who had combined
revenues of over $3 billion

last year.

They're publicly traded,
and while their marketing

materials emphasize how much they do to help their

prisoners rebuild their lives,
their pitch to investors has

been a little bit different.

WOMAN: In a recent investor
presentation, CCA pitches its

unique investment opportunity.

Another reason investing in
the jailing of people makes

good financial sense?

High recidivism.

Oh, that's--that is
a great way to reassure

your investors.

"Look, look, look.
We see your concerns.

"You know, what if we fully
rehabilitate the prisoners

"and they become fully
functional members of society?

"Well, don't worry.

"That's not the kind of
company we're running here.

"Don't worry.

"Once we're done with these
prisoners, they're like human

"boomerangs: they're broken
right in the middle, and they

keep coming back."

The key problem with running
prisons as businesses is that

prisons are then
run as businesses.

Pay and staffing ratios are
so much lower that a GEO Group

youth facility in Mississippi
sometimes had just two

officers overseeing as
many as 256 prisoners.

That facility eventually
closed, but only after

a federal judge wrote that
physical and sexual abuse was

rampant there because its
operators had "allowed

"a cesspool of unconstitutional
and inhuman acts

and conditions to germinate."

Now, I know that GEO will say
that presents an unbalanced

picture of their company, so
in the interest of balance, I

will point out that they
got an award from the state

of Florida citing their "bold
and innovative cost saving

business practices."

Although I think we all know,
when the state of Florida

gives you an award, that
award is basically sarcastic.

In fact, a quick side note,
the award was signed by

Florida governor Rick
Scott, who has led the drive

for prison privatization
in his state, but

on one condition.

Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

Listen, if you think Rick
Scott is going to look the

other way for a company with a
history of the physical abuse

of minors for savings of a
mere 6%, you don't know Rick

Scott, OK?

Ricky needs 7.
Ricky wants 7.

Ricky likes 7, OK?

Now, if you happen, at all, to
be interested in asking Rick

Scott about the conduct of the
GEO Group, for goodness sake,

don't do it tomorrow night.

He's busy.

We actually checked, and he's
going to be at a fundraiser

at the home of--and this is
true--the CEO of GEO Group.

I believe the theme of that
fundraiser is "a cesspool

of unconstitutional
and inhumane acts."

Look, this is--this is
all so depressing.

Private prisons are bad, yes,
but the whole system just

seems fundamentally broken.

You know what?

I think, if you don't
mind, I need a minute.

I actually need some help
understanding this, if you

don't mind.

Hey, John.
You seem sad.


I am sad, Timmy.

It's just I've been looking
at the prison conditions

in America, and the
whole system is just

so horribly broken.


Yeah. I know
what you mean.

My daddy's in jail
right now

for a low-level
drug offense.

You see, that's exactly what
I'm talking about, Timmy.

That's crazy.

Well, my daddy's
in jail

because he killed
4 people.

Yeah, well, OK.

He's actually a dangerous
individual who needs to be

in jail, so that's not
really the same thing.

My daddy's in jail, and
people pay money to see him.

Yeah, that's
actually a zoo.

That's different.

He's in a zoo, OK?

It looks the same
to him.

Well, let's not
conflate the two.

Oh, he's gone. OK.

Hey, John, how
badly broken

is the prison


Well, I can't believe
I'm gonna say this,

but one prison actually put sugar in
a woman's C-section.


Wait a second.

a C-section?

Oh, boy. Um...

Oh, wait, wait.
You mean, like,

the letter C?

OLIVER: Yes. Yes, yes,
that's what I mean.

That's exactly
what I mean. Yeah.

Mr. Oliver, would it make
you feel better if we

sing about it?

Well, it can't hurt,
can it?


OLIVER: Let's do that.
Yeah, why not?

We're singing
about issues.


It's a fact that needs
to be spoken

America's prisons
are broken

It's a hard truth
about incarceration

Prisons are needed
for a civilization

But mandatory minimums
for heroin and crack

Stack the system against
Hispanics and blacks

Our prison population
is bigger than Slovenia

Have we put
people in jail

Instead of treating

OLIVER: It's true.

I know. They put
my dad in jail

because they say he's a monster.

Oh, what did he do?


They just said he
looked like a monster.

Well, that's
racial profiling,

and that's
wrong, too, OK?


It's a fact that needs
to be spoken

America's prisons
are broken

Prison conditions are
a national disgrace

With violence

And maggots

And possibly rapes

And we shouldn't lock up
reptiles just to look

At their face

Those are zoos.
Those are zoos.

Your dad is an
alligator in a zoo.

I'm a crocodile.
I'm a crocodile.

Oh, Jesus,
here we go.

Oh, boy.

Oh, we all look
alike, right?

No, no, that's not
what I'm saying.

That's not what I'm saying.

No, no. You can't
put that on me.

That is clearly not what
I was saying.

so ignorant.

Oh, come on.

As we were

It's a fact that
needs to be spoken

America's prisons
are broken

America's broken
prison system

is brought to you
by decades of neglect...

a lack of political

and a generous donation
by the GEO Group...

as well as viewers like you.

Yes! Yay!
Whoo hoo!

We did it.

That's our show.

Thank you so much
for watching.

Thank you to all of my
friends on the stoop.

We'll be back next Sunday.

Please have a happier week.

Good night!

We did it!
We did it!

Let's dance the show out, OK?

Let's dance.

Well done. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry about the...