WATCH: Stephen Colbert Eviscerates 'Justice' System that Imprisons People for Being Poor
Stephen Colbert's segment "The Word" last night highlighted the utter injustice of a system which increasingly imprisons people for the crime being poor, and tries to turn a profit on their bodies and their labor.
The whole segment was thoroughly researched and filled with sad and savagely true jokes.
“The average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in fiscal year 2011 was almost $29,000,” Colbert said. “And in New York City, the cost per inmate is nearly $168,000 — though the broker will tell you that’s a pretty good deal for a 6-by-10 studio with eat-in toilet.”
“Fortunately,” he continued, "our justice system has found so many ways to cut corners.”
“First, by eliminating non-essentials. For example, governors in Utah, Idaho, Texas, Indiana, and Arizona have refused federal funding for the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That reminds me of the old joke,” Colbert said. “Two prisoners are in the shower, and one of them drops a bar of soap, so what the other guy says is, ‘What’s about to happen is fiscally irresponsible to prevent.’”
“But the savings don’t stop at not preventing sexual assault — there’s also cheap labor. The New York Times reports that ‘the federal government…is relying on tens of thousands of…detained immigrants [to] work…detention centers…cooking meals, scrubbing showers and buffing hallways…usually for $1 a day or less.’”
“It makes sense," the faux right-wing comedian said, "They come to America to steal our jobs, so we arrest them, then force them to do our jobs.”
Then he turned his laser-like humor to how prisons are now-profit motivated and therefore charging often indigent defendants for services.
“After a year-long investigation, NPR has found that ‘in at least 43 states…defendants can be billed for their public defender…their own probation and parole supervision…for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear…and room and board for jail and prison stays.’”
“And the best part is, these fees are self-sustaining investments,” he said. “It’s a great system. If a defendant can’t pay a fine or fee, they go to jail, where they’ll rack up more food and boarding fees that they can’t pay, and be penalized by more jail time, thus increasing their debt, which gives them even longer prison sentences.”
“You know what they say,” Colbert wrapped up with some slam poetry, “‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, or if you don’t have a dime, which is a crime, resulting in more time.’”
He even had some suggestions for prisons to turn a bigger profit. Female prisoners could be charged an entertainment fee for living the real-life version of "Orange is the New Black."
How we wish 'the debt penalty" were just a joke and not the sad reality it is.