Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 7, Episode 16 - Coronavirus VIII: Prisons & Jails - full transcript

In the latest episode on coronavirus John talks about US prisons and jails. These confined spaces have frightening number of COVID-19 infections. And there has been insufficient initiatives...

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Hi, there.
Welcome to the show.

Still taking place in this
empty, blank void.

There's no one in the room
with me right now.

Although, interestingly, that's still
somehow only slightly fewer people

than were at President Trump's
Oklahoma rally last night,

which was half empty despite
his campaign claiming

a million people had requested tickets
and even building an outdoor stage

so he'd be able to do a second speech
to the thousands that couldn't get in.

That speech turned out
to be very much unnecessary.

So few people turned up, in fact,
that even Pink was tweeting:

"I think I sold that place out in five
minutes hashtag #donkeyshow".

And it's never a great sign
when, as president,

you're getting dunked on by Pink.

As for the rest of this week, large,

peaceful Black Lives Matter protests
continued around the country,

John Bolton tried to sell the things he
should've said freely before Congress

and on Friday,
it was Juneteenth,

which a large segment
of white America both celebrated

and learned about
for the very first time.

Now, not all of the Juneteenth
commemorations were appropriate.

SnapChat chose the day
to release their brand-new filter

that enabled people to break chains
simply by smiling,

which is not ideal
and which they quickly pulled.

And then,
there was whatever the fuck this is.

As our country works through the racial
issues that we still face today,

it is important to remember
we are one global community.

Let's all agree that any differences
we have

should be celebrated
and learned from.

Yes, that is Melania Trump giving her
version of a Juneteenth address

yes, she is doing it between
two 20-foot golden candelabras,

no, the camera doesn't punch in
for a closer shot

and yes, I'm pretty sure this does
qualify as a hate crime in 12 states.

But instead of focusing on that,
let's move on.

Because our main story tonight
concerns the coronavirus.

The thing you have to regularly
convince your parents still exists.

You went to a Shoney's, did you ?
Who else was there ?

The whole town ? Please stay
inside, you extremely fragile maniacs.

In recent weeks, there's been
alarming spikes all over the country.

But one particular kind of place
has been getting hit especially hard.

Prisons are seeing
an alarming spike.

Data collected by "The New York Times"

shows the number of inmates infected
is above 68 000.

That's doubled over the last month.

Prison deaths tied to the virus have
risen by 73 percent since mid-May.

The five largest clusters of the virus
are in correctional institutions.

Yeah, it's true. The five largest
clusters of coronavirus

are correctional institutions.

Which is so terrible, it sounds
like an announcement produced

by some sort of bad news generator
that spits out random sentences like:

"Confederate statue inks
10 episode deal with Quibi"

or "TikTok hamster charged with four
counts of vehicular manslaughter",

or "Sean Hannity
dating Ainsley Earhardt."

One of those is real
and it's the worst one.

And the fact that coronavirus
is rampaging through prisons and jails

is especially alarming given that
there are 2.2 million people

being held in them
across the country.

Inmates are generally a group
with higher health risks.

Between 1999 and 2016, the number
of people 55 or older in prison

has increased 280 percent.

And people inside jails are more likely
to be immuno-compromised

with chronic health issues like
diabetes and hypertension.

This is an immensely
vulnerable population

and inmates very much know that,
as this advocate explains.

I am in contact with more than
300 people who are incarcerated.

They report to me
day in and night out.

"Louis, this is like me standing
in the middle of I-95 in New York,"

"right in the middle of the road
and cars zipping by me"

"at 117 miles an hour
in both directions."

"And it's just a matter of time
before I'm hit with this thing."

Inmates feel like it's just a matter
of time before they get sick.

Terrible, because we don't punish
people by giving them diseases.

Take me, for instance.
I don't have Lyme disease

because of my 2008
public intoxication charge.

I have it because those deer
knew how to fuckin' party back then.

I gotta be honest,
I miss that crew.

So tonight,
let's talk about a few things:

why the coronavirus
has spread so rapidly behind bars,

the impact that has
on absolutely everyone

and what we can and should
be doing about it.

As a quick refresher:
jails are where people are detained

while awaiting trial
or held for minor sentences,

while prisons typically hold
people who've been convicted

and are serving sentences
of more than a year.

Whether you're in a jail or a prison,
you are probably in a facility

that is in no way built to cope
with a crisis like this,

'cause it's basically impossible
to keep six feet apart in a tiny cell,

as Ted Koppel found out
a few years ago.

Confinement and social distancing
are mostly incompatible.

You don't have a hell of a lot
of room in here, do you ?

One person can only move
at a time.

Like if I'm...
We had to turn sideways.

Right. It's hard to practice
social distancing

when you live in what's basically
a closet with two beds and a toilet.

I'd argue you can't practice
most things under those circumstances

apart from games like "Let's try
not to accidentally hug each other"

and "Who can poop
the quietest ?"

Incidentally, the correct answer to
that last question is Blake Lively.

She poops the quietest.
That is simply a fact.

And some of the steps authorities have
taken to deal with this problem

are ridiculously small, as this worried
mother of one prisoner explains.

They're being locked down for
like 23 and a half hours a day.

They get to come out for 10 minutes
and use the phone,

take their shower
and then go back in.

And those small cells, they're telling
them to sleep from head to foot.

Even from head to foot,
if you're in a small cell,

it doesn't make a difference.

Exactly. And that's probably not
comforting for a mother to hear !

Don't worry, Mom. All prisoners
are instructed to sleep head to foot

and when they're awake, we tell them
to breathe in opposite directions.

We're pretty sure
we've got this covered.

Then there's the simple issue
of soap. As everyone knows by now,

a key way to protect against
the coronavirus

is by regularly
washing your hands.

But in jails and prisons, soap may be
rationed or not available at all.

If inmates need more, they may have
to buy it from the commissary.

As we have covered before
on this show,

despite doing most of the work
to keep prisons and jails running,

inmates only make
pennies for their labor.

Some facilities have even posted signs
about the importance of hand-washing

but continued to charge inmates
for access to soap.

And multiple prisoners have felt they
needed to go out of their way

to try and alert the world
to this dangerous shortage.

This is what they gave us,
this little-ass thing of soap

to stay clean, like, wash
our hands and shit.

And this is for every two weeks.

They are not giving us hand sanitizer.
They are not giving us proper soap.

This is the soap dish
that's in our bathroom.

It's just pieces of soap that everybody
got to wash their hands with.

We have two soap dispensers

but sometimes on a weekend,
the soap runs out.

That is clearly awful. There
should always be enough soap.

If you wanted
to do a decent parody of me,

you wouldn't be too far off
if you slapped on a suit,

faked a British accent
and went around shrieking:

"There should
always be enough soap."

But that doesn't make it
any less true, does it ?

There should always be
enough fucking soap !

Especially at that last facility,
at which, as of April,

about 80 percent of its residents
had contracted the virus.

And it's by no means just cleaning
products that are scarce.

PPE is in such short supply

it's led to prisoners wearing socks
on their hands when they use the phone,

which might be the saddest
sock puppet ever,

and testing has been so lacking
that inmates can't be confident

about who does
and doesn't have the virus.

On top of that,
if someone does show symptoms,

they're often placed
in solitary confinement,

because prisons have nowhere else
to quarantine them.

And it's not a great incentive
for inmates to come forward

if your policy is basically:
"Just tell us that you're sick"

"and we'll put you
in the special punishment hole."

When you take all of this together,

the close quarters,
the lack of basic protections

and the uncertainty about the
spread of a potentially deadly virus,

it's no surprise that tensions
can hit a breaking point.

This is what happens when
the coronavirus is killing...

After three o'clock
Thursday afternoon,

an inmate took cell phone video

inside the C-block of
the Lansing Correctional Facility.

Property destroyed,
inmates out of their cells.

Inmates complaining
of conditions due to Covid-19.

Don't want to give us no healthcare ?
This is what we do.

All you had to do was give us
some motherfucking healthcare.

Yeah. And if anyone is thinking
that that's an extreme response,

I'd simply ask this: what else
are they supposed to do ?

What other bargaining chip do prisoners
have at their disposal right now ?

This has been a bit of a recurring
theme lately, but I'll say it again:

if it takes the destruction of property
for a system to pay attention

to human lives, then we are
in a dark fucking place.

If you are fortunate to have little to
no familiarity with the prison system,

it can be easy
to ignore this problem.

That attitude is reflected
by some in local government.

In California, when an outbreak
in a Santa Barbara prison

made it difficult to meet the state's
standards for reopening,

local officials proposed simply
not counting the prisoners,

with a spokesman saying the individuals
are not out in the community,

so "it's really
a whole separate population."

Which is the kind of thing
you should only really be saying

if there was a coronavirus
outbreak in Atlantis.

They don't even breathe air
down there !

They're really
a whole separate population.

The director
of the Arkansas Department of Health

tried to put an even more optimistic
spin on the prison outbreaks there.

These are high-risk settings

where Covid-19 can spread
very easily, very rapidly.

But they're also closed systems

and they don't necessarily represent
the situation in Arkansas in general.

A fortunate thing about that setting
is that it's not hard to contain it

because people aren't
going out and about,

they're not leaving the prison.

Even if prisons and jails
were closed systems,

which they are very much not,
for reasons we're about to get into,

it's weird to call outbreaks
of a deadly virus "fortunate"

just because
they're confined to one place.

The news didn't go insane
covering Balloon Boy

because they were stoked it was
just one boy contained

in a homemade balloon
careening through the sky.

No, it was treated
as an emergency

'cause there was a chance
he was gonna fucking die.

Thankfully, of course, there turned
out to be zero boys in that balloon,

as it was later revealed to be
a hoax pulled off by the boy's parents

in order to make the family, who had
appeared on "Wife Swap,"

more marketable to the media.

Remember when Balloon Boy was the
craziest story you had to worry about ?

2009 truly was a simpler time
to be alive.

For the record,

people are absolutely going
"out and about" from prisons.

Because not everyone in a prison
is in prison.

There are around 445 000
non-inmate staff personnel

working in prisons
across the country

and those workers have reported
over 9 000 coronavirus cases.

We might as well be handing them

coronavirus gift bags as
they leave work every day

and head back out
into the community.

And staff bringing the virus
in and out of facilities

isn't the only way
that it can spread.

It can hop from prison to prison
as inmates are transferred around.

It can also get out into the community
when sick prisoners

are treated at local hospitals,
particularly in rural areas,

where hospitals can easily
get overwhelmed.

And that is before we get into jails,

where there is a constant
churn of people moving in and out.

In a typical week,
more than 200 000 people

are booked into jails
across the country

and another 200 000 walk out.

Outbreaks in prisons and jails can
spread to the larger community.

One study suggested that,
as of mid-April,

more than 15 percent of all documented
coronavirus cases in Illinois

could be linked to just one facility,
the Cook County Jail.

While the jail strongly
disputes those findings,

there were activists who saw
the danger signs early on,

like this man, who was
warning people back in March.

As of right now, Cook County Jail
is a virtual petri dish.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, he is
the captain of a death cruise ship.

A "death cruise ship".

Cruise ships are already
comfortably bad enough

without bringing death
into the equation.

Like if our parent company rebranded
themselves as "Genocide AT&T".

Guys, I don't know how you could
possibly make a worse experience

than the one that
you're already providing people.

Coronavirus doesn't stay behind bars.
It travels easily.

Which brings us to our final question:
what can we do ?

we need to be getting

as many people out of prisons
and jails as possible,

which is something
we should be doing anyway.

But right now, we really
don't have much of a choice.

The fewer people in these facilities,

the easier it will be for
those people to socially distance,

the fewer staff you'll need on site
and the lower your demand for PPE.

Whenever anyone suggests
releasing inmates,

this is the inevitable response.

The public just doesn't want
to have a thousand burglars,

thieves and identity forgers
and others out on the street.

We've got enough top-problems
watching our homes and business,

purses and wallets right now,
we don't need any more of this.

First off, taxidermied George Lucas,
you seem to be struggling to think

of more than one kind
of criminal there.

Burglar, thief, identity forger,
those are all synonyms for stealing.

What about all
the other criminals in Texas,

like the man who posed
as a Beto O'Rourke volunteer,

broke into someone's home
and took a Popsicle ?

Or the man who was forced
to return $3 000 in prize money

for cheating
in bass fishing contests ?

Or even the woman who drank
wine out of a Pringles can

while driving an electric cart
around a Walmart parking lot ?

Texas has a vibrant crime scene

with a lot more variety than
you're giving it credit for.

There are some people we have no
excuse for not releasing immediately.

Especially those awaiting trial in jail
who pose little risk to public safety

and are only there because
they couldn't afford to post bail.

I am not saying that every person

who's let out due to the coronavirus
will behave perfectly.

No one can say that. I'm sure
that you will see people on TV

citing isolated cases of people who
were released and then did bad things.

You'll see that on "Crime Porn
for Old Whites with Laura Ingraham"

or "They're Coming for You !
with A Human Squash Court."

But on balance, the risks
of carefully letting people out

are vastly outweighed by the risks
of leaving everyone inside.

As for prisons, the bare minimum
we should do is release offenders

who've served the majority
of their sentences,

particularly the immunocompromised
and the elderly.

Those groups are at high-risk
for the virus and the elderly

are also
a very low-risk to reoffend.

You could also place certain
prisoners on furlough,

pausing their sentence and
having them return to finish it

once the pandemic is under control.

Or, you can place them
under house arrest.

At the national level, to his, and
I cannot believe I say this, credit,

Attorney General Barr released
a DOJ memo instructing federal prisons

to reduce their populations.

Which sounds like a great idea,
in theory.

But, to date, they've only done that
by around 3 percent.

Which is even worse
than the typical state prison,

because they've reduced
their population by just 5 percent.

And that's simply not enough.

I know this might put you
in the uncomfortable situation

of having to argue on behalf of people
that you might not find sympathetic.

Take the case of one federal prisoner
who pushed hard to be released.

A judge rejected pharmaceutical
executive Martin Shkreli's request

to be let out of prison to research
a coronavirus treatment.

The presiding judge noted that
probation officials viewed that claim

as the type of: "delusional behavior
that led to his conviction."

Martin Shkreli, the "Pharma Bro" who
tried to get released to home arrest

so that he could "work on developing
a cure for the coronavirus."

Presumably, so he could
call it "Rona Juice" and then sell it

for 5 000 percent more
than it should cost.

He was denied. When you hear that,
you might think: "Good. Fuck that guy."

Generally, yeah, fuck that guy.
But in this instance,

despite the fact that Martin Shkreli
is an attention starved tree frog

who clearly wasn't held enough
as a tadpole

and despite his reasoning for why
he should be released being bullshit,

I don't want him to contract
the virus and potentially die from it.

I don't want that for anyone.
None of us should.

Yet right now, millions of Americans
are currently stuck

in truly desperate straits and vastly
disproportionately, people of color.

Some prisoners
have become so desperate,

they will risk punishment to try
and get anyone in the outside world

to pay attention to their situation.

Watch this prisoner openly using
a contraband cell phone,

which he knows will lead
to consequences to raise an alarm.

This motherfucker dying from corona.
They got him in my room.

They're literally leaving us
in here to die.

This is Aaron Campbell.
He's an inmate at FCI Elkton,

a lowsecurity federal prison
in Ohio.

He's using a contraband cell phone,

and he knows he's gonna get
in trouble for making this video.

I was like, fuck it, try to keep this,
the phone situation low key.

But this shit's serious as fuck.
Everybody in this bitch is dying,

and, what the fuck y'all want me to do,
die in this bitch ?

No. I absolutely do not want that.
I have to tell you:

the authorities at that prison have
said that the men in that video

were completely fine
and neither were sick.

Although you should also know that
by the government's own count,

at that one low-security institution,
more than 600 inmates

have tested positive for coronavirus
and nine have died.

If you're wondering
how that prisoner is doing,

he's reportedly been in solitary since
that video went viral in early April.

He wrote a letter to reporters
saying that officials told him

he wouldn't face additional discipline

if he issued a statement
saying the video was fake.

A request he then refused,
which is incredibly brave.

That's coming from me, a man who
has never missed an opportunity to say:

"I'm sorry"
for literally anything.

At this point, it's worth asking:
what the fuck are we doing here ?

Particularly during this pandemic,
but also in general.

There's a much larger discussion
to be had about

how millions of people ended up
incarcerated in the first place

and whether or not prisons even work
which I would argue they do,

if your only goal is to have
a lot of people in prison.

We should be depopulating
prisons and jails as quickly as we can.

I know how that sounds
because we were all raised

hearing that you shouldn't do
the crime if you can't do the time.

But in our current system, you're
never just being sentenced to time.

You're being sentenced
to a lifetime of social stigma,

futile job interviews, and roadblocks
to necessities like housing.

All of that is immoral enough,
there is, frankly, no reason

we should now also be sentencing
people to die from a virus.

That's not justice. It's neglect.
And it really matters.

As much as we'd like to pretend
that incarcerated people

are a "separate population",
they're not.

Whatever they've done, they are
still members of our society.

And if this horrific year
has taught us one thing,

it's that we are all on this death
cruise ship together.

And now this.

A Father's Day Tribute
to the World's Greatest Dad.

I figured
with Father's Day coming up,

we have an opportunity to sit with
the most powerful father in the world.

Over the years I've told you things
I didn't like about you

and things
that I didn't like about you.

I've told you things that you had
to straighten out. I was very strong.

I don't want to make that
a big public thing.

talking about the business side.

My father always reminds us
that it's him and then everyone else.

I don't even want to bother him.

I feel it's almost trite to call him
and just to say hello.

What's the favorite thing you have
in common with your father ?

Either real estate or golf.

Donald, with your daughter ?

I was going to say sex
but I can't relate that to her.

What does Tiffany have of yours
and what of Marla's ?

I think
that she's got a lot of Marla.

She's a really beautiful baby and
she's got Marla's legs.

We don't know whether or
not she's got this part yet.

I'm not gonna be doing the diapers.
I'm not gonna be making the food.

I may never even see the kids.

The one thing I would say for both
of you is you have to keep focused.

You're not always focused,

but a lot of that has to do
with the fact that you're very young.

- Very good, thank you.
- Thank you.

You could stay behind and ask
the questions without me here,

that's something
a lot of the big anchors do.

They'll say:
"Thank you very much"

and then they'll sit in the chair and
they'll re-ask a couple of questions.

Moving on.
Before we go tonight,

we just wanted to say
a quick word about social media.

The service that forces
the question:

"Is this celebrity trending for being
too horny, too racist, or too dead ?"

Sometimes it's two out of three,
but which two might surprise you.

Heathcliff the Cat died refreshingly
not racist but incredibly horny.

Specifically, I'd like to talk
to you about fancams.

And if you are unfamiliar
with what they are,

don't feel bad,
some of my best friends are old.

Basically, fancams are short
montages of a performer that you like,

set to music.

Anyone can be fancammed
and I do mean anyone.

Here is a real one that we found.

Don't know what the right number of
likes for a video of my body is

but I do know that one
feels a little high.

Fancams have been
a source of fun online.

Lately, a particular subset
of social media users

have deployed them for real good.

Across the globe, fans of Korean
pop music, also known as Kpop,

are known for their fierce
loyalty and devotion.

Now they're setting
their sights on racial equality,

the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter,

a social media hashtag with ties
to white supremacy,

with a sea of K-pop music,

memes, and messages
like "#ProtectTheProtesters".

They do it by posting so fast
and feverishly

that they drown out everything else.

That's incredible.
And I have to say:

it is genuinely refreshing to see
racists getting drowned out in America

instead of our policy of letting them
co-star in family Christmas comedies.

Fancams featuring K-pop stars
in particular have repeatedly

managed to drown out
racist hashtags.

I love the idea of someone
searching "white lives matter"

for some racist content and,
instead, finding only stuff like this.

I know I'm stating
the obvious here, but:

Jungkook can just
objectively get it.

And it's frankly shame-inducing
that Kpop has produced him

while American pop fans
are stuck with Adam Levine,

a man who looks like the world's
saddest adult coloring book.

K-pop fans aren't just
trolling racists,

they may be managing
to have real world impact.

Not only are they
claiming responsibility

for many of the no-show ticket requests
at last night's Trump rally,

there's also this.

Police in Dallas are having a hard
time trying to crack down on vandals

because of music fans.

The department tweeted out an app
for reporting people involved

but someone asked people
to submit random other videos

to protect the protestors.

K-pop fans responded with so many
videos from concerts,

they say
the app stopped working.

Dallas Police said the app is down
because of technical difficulties.

"Technical difficulties."
That's an interesting way to say

"Our app watched a thousand videos
of BTS and died of horniness",

but I guess that some programs don't
have an error code for that yet.

But that kind of signal-jamming is not
just limited to the K-pop fandom.

White supremacist hashtags have
also been bombarded

with videos like this gif of Mario
and Sonic the Hedgehog

finally giving
into their carnal desires.

It was only a matter of time.
I, for one, am happy for them.

Even certain members
of the furry community

joined in the fight,
posting things like:

"Hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter racists"

"look at my fursona's knotted
otter cock, thanks, smiley face."

Which is excellent.

Thanks to many contributions
like what you've seen so far,

the #WhiteLivesMatter
and #WhiteOutWednesday protests

became virtually non-functional.

We should thank everyone involved
for undermining them.

I kind of want to get in on this
magnificent mission

but I don't want to disrupt
what everyone else is doing.

If you happen to be a fan of K-pop,
erotic animal art and this show,

and you want to drown out
racist hashtags,

a video that combines all of those
elements might be useful to you.

I've got good news because
we're in a unique position

to provide you
with a video like that.

And here it is.

Yes ! That video is now available
on our Twitter, Facebook

and Instagram feeds.

which was surprisingly available !

Take it for whatever you need,

whether you're looking to flood
a racist hashtag

or just as a much-needed
pick-me-up every once in a while.

The point is, it is there for you.
That's our show.

Thanks for watching. We'll see you
next week, good night !