John Oliver Uses Muppets to Trick Americans Into Caring About Prisons

As you might be aware, the American prison system is a fucked-up hell pit carved out by institutionalized racism, despicable politics, corporate greed and many other reprehensible factors that — culturally — we've mostly agreed to ignore. The issues facing our nation's incarcerated (a population rapidly growing) aren't attractive to focus on. They're brutal and sad and easy to dismiss because a lot of people can't find it in their hearts to care about criminals. There's nothing cute about prison advocacy, which is why John Oliver is using song and adorable muppets to get Americans to actually give a shit.


This isn't the first of Oliver's whopping and passionate explainers on Last Week Tonight (he's made a point of tackling major, global issues with equal parts outrage, bewilderment and humor since the show's premiere), but it is one of the most upsetting. Stories of prisoners who had surgery wounds treated with sugar rather than a proper antiseptic, politicians who either ignore or endorse the startlingly inhumane treatment of inmates and companies that are benefitting from prisoners' mistreatment and deaths — you can try to laugh to keep from crying, but — fair warning — it probably won't work.

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Deal with poverty, institutionalized bias/racist policies, limit and/or properly regulate private prisons, move to a rehabilitation based prison system, housing discrimination, adequate funds for prisons, train the people working with prisoners well, pass laws protecting prisoners from abuse and enforce it, stop unusual punishment and practices, invest in education, better support for at-risk kids, improve our parole system, better opportunities for convicts after being released, focus on mental health, and finally remind the public that prisoner are people, even if they are bad people.