John Oliver has used four episodes of Last Week Tonight this year to discuss how people struggle with the prison system in America, but this week he took the time to discuss how they leave. Prison re-entry is a particularly relevant topic after 6,000 federal prisoners were released last weekend after a change in mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenders. The media assumed the worst, inciting fear that this mass release would mean an increase in crime, despite the fact that 600,000 prisoners are released every year.
The real problem is that many of these released offenders have nothing when they get out, and no prospects, and half of them end up going back. Two-thirds of those returns are not due to new crimes but to parole violations. Oliver talks to a man named Bilal Chatman whose parole officer was so rigid and unwilling to reschedule, that Chatman almost lost his job in order to make his weekly meetings. This is after he went through the difficulty of obtaining a job as an ex-offender, something Oliver discusses extensively. “It’s not always easy to care about the welfare of ex-prisoners, and some are going to re-offend no matter what you do,” Oliver says. “But the fact remains, over 95 percent of all prisoners will eventually be released, so it’s in everyone’s interest that we try to give them a better chance of success.”