last week tonight

John Oliver reminds us that bail is terribly unfair and bounty hunters are just terrible

Is the U.S. bail system simply punishing people for being poor?


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Published Jun 8, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 3:51 pm CDT

John Oliver will not rest until he has unveiled every injustice in the U.S. legal system. This week on Last Week Tonight, he explored how bail makes life harder for poor people accused of a crime—regardless of their guilt or innocence.

The obvious problem with bail is that if you can’t afford to pay it, you stay in jail. This can result in something as extreme as ending up in Rikers Island for driving with an expired license, while a rich person like accused murderer Robert Durst can pay his $250,000 bail and go on the run. Sometimes, people decide to plead guilty just to get out of jail.

Bail payment is a desperate business, fueling crooked bail-bond operations and a flourishing industry of bounty hunters. As Oliver points out, it’s pretty bizarre that we’ve come to accept bounty hunters as a totally reasonable reality-TV subgenre. They’re basically unregulated vigilantes whose job is to hunt down people who can’t afford to go to court.

The fake reality-TV trailer at the end of this segment is perfect. That show could totally do a crossover episode with the exciting world of LWT‘s infrastructure-inspection movie.

Screengrab via Last Week Tonight/YouTube

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*First Published: Jun 8, 2015, 7:48 am CDT