Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 22 - Mandatory Minimums - full transcript

John explains why mandatory minimum sentences, especially for drug-related crimes, are in desperate need of reform.

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with John Oliver


Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver. Thank you
so much for joining us.

Just time for a quick
recap of the week,

and we begin with diplomacy...
war for pussies.

Last week, Iran
and the US reached

a historic
nuclear agreement.

And this week,
the Obama administration

began its effort to sell
that deal back home.

And judging by Thursday's
congressional hearing,

they may have
an uphill battle.

Convince me that what we're going
through isn't just a big charade.

With all due respect,
you guys have been bamboozled.

Not unlike a hotel guest
that leaves

only with a hotel bathrobe
on his back,

I believe
you've been fleeced.

What ?

That last one doesn't
even make sense.

If... If you've ever
stayed in a hotel,

you know if you get out of there
with a free bathrobe,

I don't care what
you gave up to get it,

that's a good deal.

That's... They are soft.
Those things are soft.

It's like being inside
a monogrammed sheep.

This... This is
the beginning of 60 days

of congressional review. And strap in,
because it could be

a rough two months ahead.

One group opposing the deal
is reportedly spending

as much as 40$ million
campaigning against it,

including ads like this one.

Restrictions end
after ten years.

Then Iran could build
a nuclear weapon in two months.

Congress should
reject a bad deal.

We need a better deal.

Oh, a better deal.

Of cour... Why didn't
John Kerry think of that ?

In fact, why stop there ?

Why not get an even better deal
while you're at it ?

Or even ask for the best deal,
plus 100 $ and a free hotel bathrobe.

That's how diplomacy works, right ? You
just ask for it and they give it to you.

That's my understanding.

So, it seems pretty clear
the Obama administration

has its work cut out for it.

So, what are they doing to compete
with that 40$ million war chest ?

They've actually launched
this Twitter handle

called "@TheIranDeal."

The whole goal here
really is "Come at me.

"If you want any questions
about this deal,

If you're a naysayer,
make sure to tweet us,

because we will
get the facts straight."

That's right.

The administration is fighting back
with a Twitter account.

And to be fair, it was going pretty well
for a day or so,

until @TheIranDeal got into a feud
with Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj.

Taylor was like,

"@TheIranDeal allows Iran to keep
one-third of its 19.000 centrifuges."

And Nicki was like,

"How do we know @TheIranDeal
will ensure Iran keeps uranium

or refinements
at five percent ?"

Then @TheIranDeal was like,

"WTF. Ladies, I've done nothing
but love and support you."

And then it was on.

It was on !

The point is, Twitter is not
the place for this shit,

and it's gonna be
a long 60 days.

So, let's move on to FIFA,

um, an international
crime syndicate

that occasionally
organizes soccer matches.

As we have amply
covered on this show,

FIFA and its head, Sepp Blatter,
have been engulfed

in allegations of corruption.

Blatter has been trying
to clean up his image of late,

and this week, he was in Russia,
preparing for the 2018 World Cup,

where he uttered words
no human has ever said before.

First of all, I have to say,
thank you, President Putin.

You make us happy
and comfortable.

Thank you so much.

That's never happened !

Also, I'm honestly surprised

that they were able
to touch each other

without instantly creating
a vortex of concentrated evil

that sucked all of humanity

into a gaping maw
of eternal darkness.

And... And I have to say,
shaking hands with Putin

when you may be
facing corruption...

uh, corruption charges,

bespeaks a much larger problem
for FIFA's top brass,

because sometimes, it seems,

they honestly may not know
how bad their actions look.

Take former FIFA
vice president Jeffrey Webb,

who just last week faced charges
of accepting bribes

worth millions of dollars.
He plead not guilty

and was released
on 10$ million bail.

But wait, just wait until you see
how he came up with it.

He provided a Ferrari,
ten properties,

and five Rolex watches
to secure his release on bail.

A Ferrari and five Rolexes.

That does not look great when
you're fighting corruption charges.

His bail was apparently set
at one midlife crises.

But there is nothing
that is likely to be worrying FIFA more

at the moment than the potential loss
of the thing most precious to them.

FIFA admits it is having
trouble getting new sponsors,

and the ones it already has,
well, they want a meeting.

The CEO of Visa called FIFA's

to the scandal
"wholly inadequate."

A few hours ago,
Budweiser's parent company,

InBev, joined that call.

Also, McDonald's,
another huge sponsor,

said it is not satisfied,
and will not be

without the transparency
of an independent commission.

Wow !

You know your organization
is in trouble

when McDonald's says
it is not satisfied.

This... This is coming
from the maker

of grayish brown
meat circles,

tiny condensed
chicken mistakes,

and, once a year,
the Shamrock Shake,

a leprechaun's diarrhea.

And lastly... Moving on.

Lastly this week,
let's look at Canada,

the country
with a thriving economy

based on making
jean jackets for geese

and... and of course, their booming
sexy Ryan manufacturing industry.

This past week,
saw bad news for one company

that you maybe didn't
even realize was Canadian.

A website that encourages people
to cheat on their partners

is reeling
from a huge data breach.

that their website
has been hacked.

And the group
claiming responsibility

is threatening to release
the personal information

of the website's
millions of users.

Ashley Madison's slogan
is "Life is short. Have an affair."

"Life is short.
Have an affair."

That is the most morally
dubious slogan

since Toyota's short-lived "Feeling
bored ? Hit someone with your car."

has been hacked is a crime,
but it is hard to feel too bad

for a company that has
willingly run this ad...

I'm looking for someone
other than my wife

Other than my wife

Ashley Madison is right

I'm looking for someone
other than my wife

Other than my wife

Ashley Madison is right

I'm looking for someone
other than my wife

Other than my wife

Ashley Madison is right

That is the catchiest song

about being a complete monster
I've ever heard,

and... and I'm including
"Monster Mash" in that.

Also, also, I must say,
it seems like the theme there

is essentially
go to Ashley Madison,

and you will meet
nothing but other dudes.

That... That seems
to be the implication.

Now, interestingly,
this story may be bad news

for one city in particular...
Canada's capital, Ottawa,

a town known by locals as
the city that fun forgot,

and which once genuinely
adopted the slogan

"Technically beautiful."

It turns out that Ottawans may
be surprisingly invested in this story.

According to the site, almost 190.000
people in Ottawa are subscribers.

190.000 ?!
If that was somehow true,

that is one in five
people in Ottawa.

That's half the married
population there.

So, if you live in Ottawa,
look to your left,

look to your right...
both of those people

That's a fact !

Look, look, the important
thing is here...

Let... Let me speak to Ottawa.

Ottawa, you cannot let this skeezy
website destroy your marriages.

Don't take this lying down

beneath some mulleted stranger
wearing a wedding band.

The city counselor of Ottawa
needs to fight back,

and perhaps, we can help.

Attention, people of Ottawa,
we need to talk.

turn off your chainsaws.

Hockey players, stop skating
for a second, boys.

Moose, you just keep on moosin'.
This doesn't concern you.

This is for
the married people of Ottawa.

Sitting at home, thinking
about having an affair ?


There's a simple cure
for the marriage blues.

I'm talking about
the beautiful city of Ottawa...

the Canadian capital
of romance.

Go take a sexy walk together
by the Parliament buildings,

surprise your spouse
by knowing the clock tower

contains 53 bells, eh ?

And also, by performing cunnilingus
without being asked.

Just go down.

Maybe take a stroll together
down the Rideau Canal ?

Did you know that in winter it becomes
the world's largest skating pond ?

If that don't get you hard
or wet, nothing will, eh ?

Or maybe take your spouse to
the annual balloon festival.

You can point out the one
that looks like a tortoise,

and then fingerbang each other
in the car park.

Come on, eh ?
Look how beautiful this city is.

I mean, okay,
this is footage of Paris,

but you can think about it
while you're living here...

in Ottawa.

Okay, look, we get it.

Ottawa is a depressing,
frigid shit-hole,

and always has been.

But having an affair
is downright un-Canadian.

And you think Mounties have affairs ?
Not in those hats.

So, in conclusion,
don't have sex

with someone else's
husband named Gordon.

Have sex with your own
husband called Gordon,

because Ottawa is not
about getting

your sweet, sweet,
extramarital fuck on.

Ottawa is about watching your life
float by like so much dirty river ice.

Ottawa... a perfectly decent
place to fuck your own spouse.

Moving on.
Let's move on.

Now, the last few weeks
have been extremely busy

from the Iran Deal,
to Greece's economic meltdown,

to Donald Trump saying...

Who gives a shit
about what he says ?

It doesn't matter. But...
But in all the excitement,

you may have missed
one piece of news

that got lost in the shuffle.

President Obama tonight
granting clemency

to 46 non-violent
drug offenders...

the most in one day
since the 1960s.

Now, that's fantastic...
giving nearly four-dozen prisoners,

who had made mistakes,
a second chance at life.

It's basically
the criminal justice version

of "Top Chef's
Last Chance Kitchen,"

but with a chance
to walk free as the reward

rather than the opportunity
to, once again,

disappoint Padma
with your risotto.

This brings President Obama's
total commutations to 89,

and that's just
counting the humans.

Today, I have the awesome
responsibility of granting

a presidential pardon
to a pair of turkeys.

You are hereby pardoned...

uh, from the Thanksgiving
dinner table.

Uh, may you have
a wonderful, uh...

and joyful life
at Mount Vernon.

Just look
at that turkey's face.

Even he thinks the Annual
Turkey Pardoning is pathetic.

Look at him.
"Ugh, just kill me.

This is the worst thing
that happened to me today,

and you just
deep-fried my cousin."

Presidential clemency
has always been controversial,

from George W. Bush commuting
Scooter Libby's sentence,

to Bill Clinton pardoning
financier Mark Rich,

to... and this is true...
Abraham Lincoln pardoning

a man convicted
of attempted bestiality

because the man was
intoxicated at the time.

The man in question,
John Wilkes Booth.

It's true.

Actually not true. But if it had been,
that would have been amazing, right ?

It would've been...
it would've been amazing.

And you can read
more stuff like that in my book,

"Stranger than Truth:
John Oliver's Favorite History Lies."

But the point is,
the president commuting

these people's sentences
is a big deal

because they'd all been
subjected to mandatory

minimum sentencing laws,
which is our topic tonight.

Mandatory minimums require judges
to punish certain crimes

with a minimum
number of years in prison

regardless of context,
which is a little strange

because context is important.

For instance,
like shouting the phrase

"I'm coming !" is fine
when catching a bus,

but not okay when
you're already on the bus.

So, circumstances
make a huge difference.

That's what I'm trying to say.

Now, our current
mandatory minimums

were mostly passed during
the tough-on-crime era

of the 1980s and 90's,
and they're partially

responsible for the explosion
of our prison population.

Since 1980, the prison population
has more than quadrupled.

To put that into perspective,

that means one out of
every 100 adults is locked up.

That's true. We have two million
people incarcerated.

If we keep going
in this direction,

we'll soon have enough to populate an
entire new country with prisoners,

and trust me when I say
that is not a good idea.

Literally, the only good thing
to come out of that experiment

was Hugh Jackman,
and that took 180 years.

It was worth it,
but it was a long time.

But it was worth it.
It was worth it.

But that's... two centuries.
But it was...

It was worth it, but...

Mandatory minimums
have had a real human cost.

Meet one prisoner currently
serving time in Oklahoma.

My name is Kevin Ott.

My number's 203093.

I'm in here for
trafficking methamphetamine.

I start my 14th year
in just a couple of months,

and I will be here
until I die. Yeah.

I have life without parole for
three ounces of methamphetamine.

He got a life sentence
for three ounces of meth.

That is insane.

They're treating him like
he's Season Five Walter White

when he's barely
Episode One Jesse Pinkman.

Now, most of the mandatory
minimum drug laws on the books

were written in the 80's
and 90's when America was

in the grips of a full-fledged
antidrug hysteria.

It was a time when you could turn on
your TV and see this...

This is crack.

Rock cocaine.

It isn't glamorous
or cool or kids' stuff.

Little kids doing drugs...
it turns my stomach.

It's... it's me !

This is my future ?

It is if you don't
get off those drugs !

You use, you lose !

Listen to us !
We care about you, Mikey !

There's nothing cool
about a fool on drugs !

That... That last one,
you have to hand it to it,

had a clear message to kids.
"Listen, if you do drugs,

all your favorite cartoon characters
will show up and talk to you.

Is that what you want ?
Is that what you want ?"

So, suffice the perceived
drug menace, Ronald Reagan,

passed tough mandatory
minimum drug penalties.

And his successor
pushed for even harsher laws,

justifying them
in an Oval Office speech

featuring this
spectacular moment.

This is crack cocaine,
seized a few days ago

by drug enforcement agents
in a park

just across the street
from the White House.

It could easily have been
heroin or PCP.

It's as innocent-looking
as candy.

"And now, with the help
of this bag's contents,

I shall ascend into the cosmos
on the wings of a dragon

"to a place where joy is everlasting
and fear is but a memory.

Let's do this thing !

Let's do this thing, y'all !

Whoo ! Where's Kermit ?"

And, look...
Fun sidenote here.

If you are wondering why
someone was dealing drugs

in front of the White House,
it later emerged

the administration asked
the DEA to relocate

a previously arranged
drug sting

to make that line
in the president's speech true.

The DEA obligingly agreed
to move the buy

a little closer
to the White House.

The only hang-up was
that apparently

the teenage drug dealer
didn't know exactly

where the White House was.

Now, yeah, it's sad that a teenager
got caught up in that sting,

but that is an unbeatable
prison yard story.

"Oh, that's an amazing breaking-
and-entering anecdote you have.

Did I tell you about the time I sold
crack to the president of the U.S ?"

And this was by no means
just a Republican issue.

Democrats in Congress,
state legislatures,

and even Bill Clinton
also pushed for these laws,

and by early 1994,
31 states and DC

had mandatory minimum
sentences for drug offenses.

They united people
from either side of the aisle

faster than playing
the "chicken dance" at a wedding.

And that... that is guaranteed
to work every time.

"This is one
your Aunty knows !"

But... But nowadays, that bipartisan
tide has very much turned.

Everyone from the president
to Ted Cruz has spoken out

against mandatory minimums,
and earlier this year,

a bipartisan group
of legislators introduced

a bill to curve them
with this striking statement.

Let me just start off with a challenge
to the press, everyone at attendance.

Try to find a more diverse
political group gathered

in one place in the history
of the United States Congress.

"In fact, I challenge you
to find any group as diverse

as the eight men
standing before you.

I cannot think of anyone
who is not represented here.

I challenge you.
You are challenged."

In fact, even people who helped
write those laws at the time,

have turned on them.
Take Kevin Ring.

He was a congressional staffer
who helped push

mandatory minimums
in the 90's

because he believed that they were
an effective deterrent.

He later went
to prison for fraud,

and meeting his fellow inmates
somewhat changed his mind.

Most of these guys
made stupid mistakes

without any idea
of what the punishment was.

They just didn't think
they were going to get caught.

Um, so you can... you can make
the severity off the charts.

You can... you can do
life sentence for jaywalking.

It's not gonna stop it.

Of course it isn't.

Ridiculously long sentences are not
a great deterrent to crime.

Prison sentences
are a lot like penises.

If they're used correctly,
even a short one

can do the trick... a rumor I have heard.

And the truth is...

The truth is,
mandatory minimums...

mandatory minimums
didn't just not work,

they ruined lives.

Take the case
of Weldon Angelos,

a non-violent,
first-time offender.

When he was 24, he sold small amounts
of marijuana to an informant

while he happened to have
a gun in his possession.

And as a result, he received
a 55-year mandatory minimum

sentence with no parole.
He won't get out until he's 79

for selling something
that's currently legal

for recreational use
in four states,

and whose main side effect

is making episodes
of "Frasier" slightly funnier.

And... And he was not the only one
affected by his sentence.

His two boys
were five and seven.

They were just destroyed.

I mean, you could see
the sadness in them all the time.

I think it's cruel and...

like, I'm not saying
he doesn't deserve anything,

but he did serve his time, and...
I think he's in there long enough.

Like, the minimum should've
been, like, five years, maybe.

55 years is way too much.

Yeah, it is.
It is way too much.

And you know
who else thinks that ?

The judge who sentenced him.

If he had been
an aircraft hijacker,

he would've gotten
24 years in prison.

If he had been a terrorist, he would've
gotten 20 years in prison.

If he was a child rapist, he would've
gotten 11 years in prison.

And now I'm supposed to
give him a 55-year sentence ?

That's just not right.

So wait, if my math is right here,
this low-level pot dealer

received the exact
same sentence

as would an airplane-hijacking,
child-raping terrorist...

a person so evil,

I legitimately don't know
if one has ever existed.

And he's not alone.

Many judges... Many judges
oppose mandatory minimums

because they essentially
hand over sentencing power

to prosecutors who can
then use the threat

of long mandatory minimums
to convince defendants

to take a plea bargain or to cooperate
by providing information.

And we have all seen this
in action on cop shows.

That heroin we found
in your apartment,

that kind of weight...
gotta take that to federal court.

Mandatory minimum sentence
you're looking at is ten years.

See, we're giving you a choice here,
Jimmy. You do the ten years

or you help us on these homicides
we're looking at.

"Yeah, and you know what ? Don't help
us out too quickly either, Jimmy.

We've got 23 minutes left in this
episode, so you're gonna want

to reveal that relevant information
in a nice, piecemeal fashion."

And, look, drugs
have hurt people, for sure,

but the mandatory minimum
sentencing laws designed to stop them

have done way more harm
than good,

particularly to
certain populations.

In 2010, nearly three-quarters
of federal drug offenders

sentenced under mandatory
minimums were black or Hispanic.

They affect minorities the way that
hockey injuries affect white people...

not entirely,
but disproportionately.

Now... Now luckily,
at the federal level,

we've reduced
some mandatory minimums

and added safety-valve
provisions to give judges

discretion in certain cases.

And on the local level,
at least 29 states

have rolled back
their mandatory minimum laws.

But for the most part, those reforms
have not been made retroactive,

meaning thousands of people
are currently stuck in prison

for crimes that would
carry far shorter sentences

if they had committed them
just a few years later.

And that's... that's terrible.

Just think about
how annoyed you get

when people who get seated
after you at a restaurant

get served
and leave before you.

Only, in this case,
the food is prison food,

the restaurant is prison,
and dinner takes 55 fucking years.

And the thing is,
if we go back...

if we go back
and fix these mistakes

while we still can, the effect
can be transformative.

Look at Jason Hernandez,
who was sentenced to life in prison

for dealing drugs,
including crack.

Watch him read his commutation
from the president.

"Be it known that I,
Barack Obama,

President of
the United States of America,

in consideration of the...

of the premises
there is other good...

and sufficient reasons
be there are to move it...

do hereby grant the sent...

the sent application..."

Let me tell you
just how moving that is.

I'm moved by it
and I'm British.

And we are so repressed
that crying in public

is punishable by exile
from the country.

I'm only here
because I saw the trailer

for "The Notebook"
in the theater.

He wrote her every day
for a year !

Every day for a year !

Their first love
was their greatest love !

There are so many people who
deserve to have their cases addressed.

Here is just one more.

Sharanda Jones, a first-time
non-violent offender.

She was sentenced to life for her very
minor part in a crack cocaine ring.

She had an eight-year-old daughter
when she went to prison,

and has had to watch her grow up
from inside there.

My dream is to just
show up at her school.

I mean, I know
they gave me life,

but I can't imagine
not being at her graduation.

Her high school graduation... I just
can't imagine me not being there.

Here's the thing...
that was eight years ago,

and she missed
that graduation.

And Sharanda was not
on the president's list

of commutations last week,
nor incidentally, was Weldon Angelos.

As for Kevin Ott, he couldn't be on the
list because he's in a state facility,

so, his pardon would need to come
from the governor of Oklahoma.

And look, there should be
a lot more pardons and commutations.

But if we really want to address
this problem permanently,

we need states
and the federal government

not just to repeal mandatory
minimums going forward,

but to also pass laws
so that existing prisoners

can apply for retroactively
reduced sentences.

Because almost everyone
has agreed that mandatory

minimum laws were a mistake,

and we cannot have a system

where people are continuing
to pay for that mistake

and where, perhaps,
their best chance of getting out

of a prison that they should
no longer be in,

is somehow finding
a turkey costume

and hanging around the fucking
White House at Thanksgiving.

And now, this.

And now...

Unnecessary full disclosure

I'm an oil nerd, by the way.
Full disclosure.

Full disclosure, I am
a huge "Ghostbusters" fan.

Full disclosure, I'm one of those
"born in Massachusetts" guys.

Full disclosure,
I was Hercules.

Full disclosure,
I had to basically wrestle

the hot pants
off my 14-year-old yesterday.

Full disclosure, I live in Brooklyn
and feel youthful most days.

Full disclosure,
I am a Harvard college grad.

Hey, full disclosure
on "Jeopardy," by the way,

you won "Jeopardy" once.

Full disclosure off the top,
I gained six pounds in England.

And finally tonight,
a quick update on Ukraine,

or as Vladamir Putin
might call it, Phase One.

Earlier this week, it seems
Ukraine might be declaring war

on a surprising target.

Gerard Depardieu has become
a persona non grata

in Ukraine, where France
has reported Monday evening

that the actor appears
on the country's recent blacklist

for allegedly posing a threat
to national security.

Yes, reports indicated
Ukraine had blacklisted

Gerard Depardieu,
seen here sweating

an unfeasible amount
of presumably grain alcohol.

Now, subsequently,
it emerged he had not

yet been banned,
but the pro-Ukranian activists

had suggested his name
be added to a blacklist

of foreign cultural figures
who speak out in support

of violating the territorial
integrity of Ukraine.

If you are wondering

what he could possibly have said
to annoy them that much,

well, at a Latvian
film festival last year,

he reportedly said,
and I quote,

"I love Russia and Ukraine,
which is part of Russia."

Which... Which...
let's be fair,

those are pretty
provocative words

from the 104th biggest star
of 102 Dalmatians.

But... let me just
take a moment to issue

a word of caution
to Ukraine,

because some reports
speculated you might ban

the use
of Gerard Depardieu's image,

and that would, frankly, be
a huge mistake, and I'll tell you why.

Photos of him are genuinely

some of the funniest things
on the Planet Earth.

Let me quickly
prove this to you.

Here is one of him driving a scooter
through the countryside.

Just look at that face !
Look how happy he is !

Do not deny
yourself that, Ukraine !

Here's another one of Depardieu
with his nose stuck in a glass of wine.

That is visual Prozac !

And... And this photo
should frankly be painted

on the fucking ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel.

Not only is he spraying
himself with Silly String,

he's staring
down the spray can

like he's somehow confused
by its role in all this.

"I must confess to you,
Monsieur Spray Can,

"I do not know from where
this mysterious

white substance... Oh ! Voila !
It happened again, my dear friend."

Look, Ukraine,
you've had a rough year,

so why deny yourselves
images like this one ?

Of Gerard Depardieu
walking down the street

with two pairs of glasses on his head ?
Why do that to yourself ?

Or a picture of him making
whatever this expression is ?

Is that fear ?
Is it excitement ?

Like any great work of art,
you can see so many things in it.

We did a photo search
for this segment.

We could not find
a bad photo of this man.

We couldn't find a good one either, but
we definitely couldn't find a bad photo.

So, to remind you of what
you might be giving up, Ukraine,

over the credits
of our show tonight,

please enjoy this selection
of Depardieu images

set to the sound
of cartoonishly French music.

That's our show.
Thank you so much for watching.

Thanks to Gerard Depardieu
for living his truth. Good night !

with John Oliver