HBO’s late night host John Oliver has by now become a trendsetter for US political talk. The comedian’s latest target is the US bail system, which over the last few decades has effectively kept low-income defendants in jails and prisons before they have their day in court, while allowing wealthy Americans to pay their way to freedom.
Meanwhile, the bail bond industry profits off the $14 billion it writes in bonds annually, according to a 2012 Justice Policy Institute report.
The problems with bail got some attention recently with the news that the musicians Jay Z and Beyonce donated tens of thousands of dollars to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, partially to bail out protestors.
Oliver turned his attention to the bail bondsman and bounty hunters, who he called “unregulated vigilantes.” Bounty hunters also happen to be perfect fodder for reality television—so much so that there are now televised bounty-hunting competitions—Oliver pointed out. “It says something about how comfortable we all are with how our bail system works that a TV show where people with guns hunt humans for sport seems legitimate because we think, ‘Well, they’re just doing their actual job.'”
And while the bail industry makes money from the system, keeping people who can’t pay bail in prison is more expensive for the government, Oliver says. Allowing a federal defendant to remain out of jail under supervision costs a tenth of keeping someone detained.