Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 19 - Prison Labor - full transcript

Prison labor is more like free labor since many people believe that prisoners should not be paid for their work. John explains how little convicts make and what ridiculous ways the private ...

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

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

A quick recap of the week.
We begin with the United Kingdom,

a country that,
and this is true, had a good run.

We're gonna begin with the UK's
new prime minister, Boris Johnson,

a man whose photo should accompany
the headline "Owen Wilson Drowns."

Johnson's tenure as prime minister
began with a tour around the UK,

where he was received with
the level of warmth he deserves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
has kicked off his first full week

as prime minister
with a trip to Scotland,

where he's calling for a strengthening
of the ties that bind the UK.

That's some booing there.

Yeah, it was. That was, indeed,
some booing there.

Seems like the current
"ties that bind the United Kingdom"

consist of "shared abject hatred
of one particular man."

The booing wasn't the low point
of Boris's week.

A special election
for a parliamentary seat

did not go well for him.

Boris Johnson's chances
of securing any agreement on Brexit

just got harder.

The Pro-EU Liberal Democrats
picked up a parliamentary seat.

This leaves Mr. Johnson with
a majority in the House of Commons

of just one seat.

Boris has been in the job
for just over a week

and his majority
is down to one.

The already impossible task
of getting parliamentary approval

on a workable Brexit deal
just got even harder.

It's like if Apollo 11
was about to land on the moon

and Aldrin turned to Armstrong
and said:

"Don't be mad, but I just
realized I forgot our space suits !"

"How long can you hold
your breath ?"

In the midst of all this,
Boris met with Britain's farmers,

who could be hit hard
by a no-deal Brexit.

Which led to this image of him
tightly grasping a chicken.

That chicken's face may sum up
the feelings of many in Britain.

Look at it. "It seems I'm firmly
in the clutches of an idiot"

"who appears to have no idea
what to do with me."

"I may as well just go limp,
wait for my dark fate to come to pass"

"and pray
this is all over quickly."

Let's move on to John Ratcliffe,
Trump's short-lived pick

for Director of National Intelligence
and third season winner

of the reality show
"So You Think You Can Romney !"

The president announced Ratcliffe
as his pick for DNI on Twitter

and he seemed
an odd choice.

It's a job overseeing 17 agencies with
a combined budget of $60 billion

and anyone nominated is required
by law to have

"extensive national
security expertise."

Which is something Ratcliffe
emphatically did not have.

He was the former mayor
of Heath, Texas,

an unpaid position in a town
of around 9 000 people.

If you want to get an idea
of the issues he had to deal with,

let me point you
to Heath's Facebook page,

where there is a discussion about
a new Mexican restaurant in town

because, and I quote:
"We have one already."

There are, and I cannot stress
this enough, 189 comments.

We don't have time to go
into the whole thing,

but one particular thread
starts with:

"So we're going to have 2 sit
down restaurants", misspelled,

"in town, and they're both
Mexican food ?"

"We're supposed to be excited ?
Seems like poor planning to me."

And escalates to the point where
this delightful man says:

"I don't much like the overall
tone of your posts sir..."

"I just googled what a cuck was
and I'm extremely offended."

It's the entire internet encapsulated
in two comments. Heath seems lovely.

To be fair to Ratcliffe, he did
also serve as a US attorney.

Although, it was for less than a year,
on an interim basis

and his resume seems to have
inflated what happened in that time.

In his congressional bio,
Ratcliffe claims that during that time

he put terrorists in prison, but
a CNN search of terror related cases

doesn't show any
that Ratcliffe prosecuted

and his office
couldn't offer examples or evidence.

In that same congressional bio,
Ratcliffe also says

he "arrested 300 illegal aliens
in a single day",

even though it was a multi-state,
multi-agency operation

to sweep up
suspected illegal workers.

45 workers were charged by Ratcliffe's
office, six of whom were dismissed.

Ratcliffe said he arrested
"300 illegal aliens in a single day,"

when his office only charged 45,
a pretty audacious lie !

Seems weird to be upset about
somebody not arresting as they said,

but it also seems weird
not to be upset.

It's like if your friend told you
he once took 300 poopies in a day,

when he really only took 45.

Why are you bragging about that,
why are you lying about that,

why do you use such a reprehensible
phrase for that

and why is the real number
still so upsettingly high ?

Five days after Trump's announcement
tweet, Ratcliffe was out.

It would be
a remarkable flame-out,

were it not for the fact that Trump
is putting forward people

who fall apart under scrutiny.

He's lost his picks to allegations
of conflicts of interest,

plagiarism, a workplace affair,
offensive blog posts, being an idiot,

being the actual Herman Cain
or being flamboyantly unqualified.

It's not just Ratcliffe
in that last category.

Trump nominated Sam Clovis

as the Department of Agriculture's
chief scientist,

despite the fact
he was not a scientist.

He was a talk radio host.

He was confident
in his scientific instinct,

as you can hear in this assessment
of climate change.

I have looked at the science and
I have enough of a science background

to know when I'm being boofed,
a lot of what we see is junk science.

Wait. His science background
taught him about boofing ?

We learned from the Brett Kavanaugh

that "boof" either means
"farting" or "anal sex",

so I truly hope that Clovis is aware
of when he's being boofed.

I'm not sure that's something
they teach you in science class.

A track record like that
would embarrass the administration

and make them want to improve
their vetting process.

As Trump clarified on Friday,
letting randomly selected idiots

be publicly torn apart by
the national media is his process.

No, you vet for me.
I like when you vet. No, you vet.

White House has a great vetting
process. You vet for me.

When I give a name, I give it out
to the press and you vet for me.

I give out a name to the press
and they vet for me.

We save money that way.

The process is "make a decision
without thinking"

"and trust that someone else
will do your job for you."

Hearing: "You vet for me"
from the president

is only less alarming than
hearing it from a vet.

"You vet for me.
I dunno if Gus is fine or not."

"I'll give you the cat, you vet
for me, we save a lot of money."

Donald Trump chooses his cabinet
and appointees

with the thought and care
he does everything else.

Absolutely none. While there is not
a lot that we can do in the short term,

next time he announces a new
tremendous appointee on Twitter,

we can all say: "No way.
I know when I'm being boofed."

And now this.

Fox News's Shep Smith Has A Weird
Favorite Expression.

I would think he wouldn't be
happy about this.

He's been dreaming about hitting
the Iranians since Fluff was a kitten,

she's a full-grown cat.

That walk across the lawn that
presidents have been doing

since Fluff was a kitten
and she's a full-grown cat.

Clinton campaign's been raising
money since Fluff was a kitten.

They've been working on it
since Fluff was a kitten.

Steve Doocy's been on it
since Fluff was a kitten.

When Fluff was a kitten.
Since Fluff was a kitten.

Fluff was a kitten and she's
a fullgrown cat.

- Where is Fluff ?
- Full-grown cat.

Teams steal signs since
Fluff was a kitten.

She's in a nursing home.

That robot's been around since
Fluff was a kitten

and Fluff is on her last leg.

He's with us since Fluff was
a kitten. She is close to death.

Fluff is long since buried.

I'm not gonna let you go
'til you tell me who Fluff is.

Fluff is a kitten. Nana used to talk
about Fluff. Anytime things were old,

Nana would say: "That's been
around since Fluff was a kitten."

I've been saying since Nana said it,
it's good enough for everybody !

All right. I love it.
I might start using it.

Moving on. Our main story
tonight concerns prison.

And if you are unfamiliar
with the concept,

I'll let a children's
entertainer explain it to you,

in a clip that
has in no way dated badly.

All of those people
who are in prison right now

were kids once,
just like you.

Somewhere along the way,
they did something wrong, dumb.

Whatever it was, it probably
started small, became bigger.

Maybe they got away with it at first
and thought they'd never get caught.

They were wrong.
Now they're in prison.

Yes, they are. It's almost like they
should've really seen this coming.

We've talked before about
the problems of mass incarceration.

This story isn't about who is in prison
or whether they should be there.

It's about what they are doing
while they are inside.

it's a story about prison labor.

Over 60 percent of people
in prison have jobs.

Prisons are operated by the inmates,
as you would know,

if you've ever seen an episode
of "Lockup: Raw" on MSNBC.

The most common jobs are working
in the kitchen or janitorial duty.

I clean carpet,
vacuum, empty trash.

I work in laundry,
five days a week.

He has landed one of the most coveted
inmate jobs, staff canteen clerk.

I didn't come into prison
with a staff canteen job.

I started in food service
and worked my way through the ranks.

Oprah didn't start on
"The Oprah Winfrey show." So...

He is right of course. Oprah didn't
start on "The Oprah Winfrey Show".

A glowing magical orb
consolidated all of the earth's energy

into one mesmerizing,
perfect beacon of light.

Then, the light fucked the orb.
And the result was Oprah.

That's Oprah's origin story.
There are some major differences

between the jobs people do in prison
and the ones they do on the outside,

when it comes to money.

The average wage in prisons
is around 63 cents per hour.

that's the average.

That means there are states
where prisoners make less.

In Texas, Georgia, Arkansas
and Alabama,

prisoners are not paid
for their work at all.

In some places, they work
under threat of disciplinary action.

If they say:
"No, I'm not gonna work",

they can write you up,
send you to solitary.

Now that's slavery.
To work for free...

And they can put
you in solitary if you don't work

or write you up
for not working ?

For free ?
Why is that not slavery ?

Yeah, that's not good.
"Why is that not slavery ?"

is one of those questions that,
even if you have to ask it,

something has already gone
very wrong.

"How many swastika tattoos ?"

or "Which of mommy's nightstand
drawers did you open ?"

Things are already bad. We just
need to figure out how bad.

The answer to
"Why is this not slavery" is:

"It's not exactly not slavery."

Treating prisoners as slaves
is written into the Constitution.

The 13th Amendment
states that slavery is abolished,

except as a punishment
for a crime.

The amendment abolishing slavery
is really not the one that you want

to suddenly
include the word "except".

To many, inmates are not a naturally
sympathetic group of people.

When there was a push to get a higher
wage for those working behind bars,

these people on Fox
found it hilarious.

Inmates are suing for minimum wage
for the work they're doing behind bars.

Should that be a crime ?

He says he deserves minimum
wage. As if crime pays !

Why let crime pay ?

Crime should not pay !
Common sense is very simple.

"Common sense
is very simple."

If you watch that on mute,
you would definitely assume

it was a panel
on erectile dysfunction.

Even with the sound on,
you can't definitely say it's not.

In a way, I actually get it.

"Crime doesn't pay"
does sound like common sense.

It's much more complicated
than that.

When combine the low to nonexistent
wages that prisoners get paid

with the high costs they
can incur while they're inside,

the current system
can wind up costing all of us.

We're gonna look into how
prisoners make and spend money

and the companies that have
managed to get rich off them.

Prison labor
can take many forms.

It is often the janitorial or kitchen
work that you saw earlier,

but in some states, prisoners
work as firefighters.

In the California wildfires last year,

12 percent of the firefighters
were current inmates.

Many of them find fighting
fires very rewarding.

Just the other day we were able
to save houses from burning down.

To have a woman come out
to her backyard and thank us

for saving her house makes us
feel like we're doing something.

Being able to give back

and potentially save lives
it's huge.

Makes sense. Being able to save
lives must be very satisfying.

It's why Batman always seems
to be in such a good mood.

And why his catchphrase is:
"I'm Batman !"

"How great is fighting crime ?
It's great, I love it."

That feels like the best-case
scenario for prison labor:

people who are happy to work,
contributing to society

and learning new skills.

Those firefighters' base pay
is between 3 and 5 dollars per day.

If you think: "At least they're learning
skills that'll help them get a job,"

that is often not the case...

California law bars most people
with a criminal record

from becoming licensed
emergency responders.

A firefighter in prison is not unlike
being an art history major in college.

It may be fun while you're in there,

but you're not gonna be doing it
once you get out.

Hear that, Thessaly ?
You'll work in human resources,

you'll have a favorite coffee
mug and a pillow

that says
"It's Wine O'clock Somewhere",

yearning for the sweet
release of death...

Just. Like. Everybody. Else.

Fighting fires is far from the only
dangerous job prisoners do.

At Louisiana State Penitentiary,
some take part in a prison rodeo,

where the entertainment
can be insane.

Take convict poker... Four inmates
sit nervously at a card table

while a very restless bull
picks out his target.

The last one standing
or sitting wins.

Why do you do this ?

Money. I'm broke. I'm trying to get
a private investigator on my case.

He earns two cents an hour
working in the prison fields

but he can earn hundreds
out in that mud.

Holy shit !
That is truly shocking.

Look, this really isn't
the biggest issue there,

but if you are going to have a game
where a bull attacks people,

you don't name it "convict poker",
you name it dodge bull.

Not the biggest issue,
but I did want to bring it up.

Being attacked by a bull for
entertainment is an outlier.

Most prisoners are doing routine
labor, for little to no money.

That can lead to them being seen less
as humans paying their debt to society

and more as a pool
of virtually free labor.

Don't take that from me, listen
to Louisiana sheriff Steve Prator.

When the state, as part
of a prison reform program,

started releasing inmates, he went
public with an unusual complaint.

In addition to the bad ones
and I call these bad...

In addition to them,
they're releasing some good ones

that we use every day to wash cars,
to change oil in our cars,

to cook in the kitchens,
to do all that.

It's where we save money.
They're gonna let them out.

The ones we use in the work release
program, they'll let them out.

Think about
what he's saying there.

He's saying some people need to stay
behind bars

because they're too valuable
as a source of free labor.

The same plan as the villain in
the "The Shawshank Redemption".

To qualify
as a Stephen King villain,

you have to be something
way less stupid, like an evil car

or a guy who forgot
to wear a coat.

Many prisoners do prefer having jobs
to just sitting in their cells all day.

Getting rid of prison labor entirely
is not the answer here.

Paying prisoners more might help.
Although that will be difficult.

Prisons are so reliant
on their labor,

moving to a competitive wage could
cost millions of dollars each year.

There are those out
there who might say:

"What do prisoners
even need money for ?"

The answer is really important.
Because while it may seem

like you're living
for free in prison,

you may actually
have a lot of expenses,

like legal fees, or basic necessities,
like soap, or shampoo.

And as lawmakers in Arizona

prisons were requiring women
to buy personal hygiene products.

There's a new bill
that would have the state pay

for all feminine hygiene products.

First to hear the proposal,
a committee of nine men,

some a bit squeamish
about taking on the task.

Hearing the bill
was something I didn't expect.

I didn't expect to hear pads
and tampons

and the problems of periods.

Two things...
"The Problem Of Periods" sounds

like the title of a medical textbook
written back in the time

when we used to treat female emotions
with either electrocution or drowning.

I am shocked that a man who
willingly chose that haircut

isn't more
of an expert on women.

Until last year,
Arizona's female prisoners

were allotted just
12 pads per month,

which as I am going to say
at least half of you know

often isn't nearly enough.

Extra hygiene products
were not a minor expense.

Base pay for prisoners
starts at 15 cents an hour.

To buy one additional pack of pads,
took about 21 hours of work.

In theory, women who needed
more could simply ask prison guards

or get a medical dispensation.

In Arizona,
as in many places,

prisoners also have to pay
a co-pay to see a doctor.

I'll let a former prisoner tell you
how that worked out in reality.

The most important thing
if I want to request the medical right

to get more pads because say
I have a heavier flow this month,

I would have to pay 4 dollars
just to be seen by medical.

When I'm making 9 cents after tax,
you gotta really think

if I want to put my whole month's
income for extra pads.

If they believe I deserve it.

Not only is it ridiculous that
she needs to pay to make a case

that she deserves access to pads,
spare a thought for her

having to discuss the details of
a heavy flow into this bewildered face.

For many prisoners,
there is an enormous gap

between what they make in prison
and having enough for necessities.

If they are lucky, they might
have family or others on the outside

willing to help them out
by sending them money.

Even that is more
complicated than it appears

and this brings us
to the final absurd element:

the for-profit companies between
prisoners and the outside world.

Let's say you want to send money to
your incarcerated son or daughter.

One of the biggest companies
that lets families do that is JPay.

But there is a catch.

In lots of states, families have to go
through JPay to send money in a prison.

For 450 000 families, JPay is
the only way to send an inmate money

and the company charges them
fees as high as 45 percent.

To give to him 50 dollars, I have
to send 70 off of my card.

It's hardest on people like Pat Taylor
who are barely scraping by.

I let a bill go and pick it up later.

It's true. It costs her 20 dollars
just to send 50 !

Look out, Ticketmaster !

When it comes to dickish fees,
there's a new asshole in town.

Charging families to transfer money
isn't the only way companies profit.

JPay's parent company, Securus,
is also a leader in the field

of charging prisoners
for phone calls and video visits,

which is a 1.2 billion dollars
a-year industry.

Securus has ads which play
like a shitty Apple commercial,

but make it look like
it's a warm, fuzzy company,

on human connections.

It's nice that they are fully
acknowledging how important it is

for people to connect
to others on the phone.

It's a lesson that AT&T
would do well to take.

You suck it, business daddy !

Business baby ain't never getting
in line. This baby rides dirty.

I'm fussy. Don't rub my tummy.
I won't be settled.

What that ad doesn't make clear

is how expensive they
made those vital connections.

Phone calls within states
can go over a dollar per minute.

Facilities served by Securus have
had fees over 3 dollars

for the first minute and
16 cents for each additional one.

And that can really add up,
which can be a problem

for families
who may have limited resources.

Shayna is married to a man with
a seven and-a-half year sentence.

Palles has been paying
high telephone fees,

trying to keep her daughter connected
to her father however she can.

Where'd Daddy go ?
Look !

At 6 dollars a call, keeping
that connection isn't easy.

Some might not see 6 dollars
as a lot but when you have an infant

6 dollars is half
of a pack of diapers.

And that is rough.
You should not have to choose

between letting your kid talk
to her dad and buying diapers.

That is the definition
of a shitty situation.

If you curtail
or remove that connection,

it can have serious consequences
on life inside the prison.

All a lot of guys have
when they're incarcerated

are those phone calls,
those letters, those visits.

That's what they live for, that's how
they get through their time.

I've seen guys, their family didn't
come see them in a week or two

and the next thing you know they
ended up in the hole for 90 days.

You can't build a family in prison.

Contact with families
is incredibly important.

"In the hole for 90 days" is also
how Sting describes a quickie.

If you are thinking: "Maybe families
can just get around phone charges"

"by visiting their loved ones
in person",

they can,
although that is changing, too.

Prisons and, especially, jails, have
been phasing out in-person visits,

in favor of video visitation.

You can turn up to see a loved one
and sit in a different room

and talk to them on a screen.

This is something Securus
has contractually mandated.

Up until 2015, some of their
contracts with facilities

had them promise to eliminate
all face to face visitation.

And that is evil.
"Machine that makes money"

"by stopping people from seeing
their families"

sounds like an item at the top
of Satan's Amazon Wish List.

Right before "super-bedbugs",
"cauliflower rice"

and "just the actual
existence of Amazon."

While this sounds inhumane,
the people running these facilities

will insist that the reason for it
is purely a safety issue.

If you limit the people
who are coming in,

you're going to limit
the attempts of contraband.

No contraband.

You'll not introduce
contraband into the jail.

I get it,
so it's a contraband issue.

The problem
is that research shows

that installing video visitation
does not decrease contraband,

because it's easier
for it to come in other ways,

like through guards, staff
and occasionally through owls.

Although, admittedly,
that is mostly an Azkaban problem.

Why push video visitation so hard ?
It is difficult to say.

I will point out it seems notable
that jails and prisons often get a cut

of the proceeds
from phone and video calls.

They point out the money
goes into an "inmate welfare fund",

that fund is often used for things
other than "inmate welfare".

One county spent three-quarters
of that money on staff salaries,

while another dipped into it
to buy Tasers.

Which stretches the definition of
"inmate welfare" to a shocking degree.

When you put all of this together,

you're not just hurting
the people who are incarcerated,

you hurt
everyone around them.

One in three families of inmates
reported going into debt

to pay for phone calls
or visitation.

That doesn't set up a prisoner for
success once they are released.

The current system of low wages
and high costs is clearly no good

for anyone but for the companies
who are managing to massively profit.

There are things that we can do.
NYC made phone calls from jails free

and Connecticut will consider
similar legislation next year.

If we want to pay prisoners more,
we could do that.

Although, it would undeniably be
incredibly expensive and unpopular.

You saw people argue: crime doesn't
pay, that's just common sense.

Part of the way mass incarceration
persists in this country

is by keeping the true costs
of it off the books.

We're doing that through a combination
of underpaid labor from prisoners,

financially draining families
who've done nothing wrong

and managing
to monetize prisoners

being launched into
the air with livestock.

We've come a long, long way
from common sense. And now this.

What The Fuck Is Going On
With New York City's Raccoons ?

Raccoons running amuck,
breaking into homes,

and leaving behind a big mess.

On most nights in Central Park,
a feeding frenzy takes place.

- They eat bread, they like pizza.
- They're hungry all the time.

They're out during the daytime,
when they should be sleeping.

He stood on two legs
and he hissed at me.

This three-year-old Maltese,

who used to love to play outside
is now a prisoner in his own home.

He refuses to go out in the yard.

Raccoon experts are not surprised.

Once they've been trapped once,

they'll know not to go
into that trap again.

From the window,
he headed to the pantry,

took out the cat food, unscrewed it
and helped himself.

Ate peanuts and washed
his paws in the cat's dish.

A raccoon removed
the wrapper from a lollypop.

Like with hands ?

The caller reported seeing a tiger
in Washington Heights.

You see all types of things here.
Can't tell you much about no tiger.

- Anything confirmed on that tiger ?
- It was a raccoon.

It wasn't a tiger,
it was a raccoon...

That's our show, thanks for watching.
See you next week, good night !