Lessons from Television: Prisons

Last Week Tonight. Adam Ruins Everything. Full Frontal. Modern television has become a marvelous source of easily-digested, enlightening, and entertaining bubble-bursters with thoroughly-researched explanations of the ills in American society. These shows are extraordinarily compelling, but unfortunately, they face obstacles that make them harder to put in front of viewers, from cable subscriptions to the sheer overload of quality programming available across the globe. We’re living in the golden age of television, and that’s just as true for nonfiction as it is for the dramas, comedies, and dramadies that have obsessed our culture.

To help cut through some of the clutter, I’ve decided to try and put together a few overviews on important issues by culling clips from various shows like those listed above which specialize in funny but profoundly moving examinations of specific subjects.

First up: Prisons. Far from being the necessary public evil we all accept and acknowledge when discussing crime, America’s prison system has become nothing short of a profiteering nightmare combining crude medieval incarceration techniques with byzantine bureaucracies which entrap and ensnare disproportionately large populations of the mentally ill, minorities, and nonviolent offenders. Moreover, the laws leading to these massive rates of imprisonment are often directed politically and maliciously against vulnerable groups.

Several terrific pieces have been done on prisons on comedy shows. Here are a few highlights:


“Private Prisons”

Corporate-run prisons are a complete scam, and a dangerous one at that.

“Solitary Confinement”

This practice has no place in civilized society.

“Prison Education”

The most easy and affordable way to reduce recidivism, and we’re not funding it.

“The Truth Behind Weed Laws”

The quote at the end is truly shocking.

“Felon Voting”

Between the overt racism in drug laws and the laws against allowing felons to vote, there is a war on letting black men vote in this country.


“Mandatory Minimums”

The statistics are so damning it’s stunning that this is still legal.


Another way that American prisons disproportionately harm the poor.

“Prisoner Re-Entry”

Prison seems like Hell. Leaving is not much better.

“Mental Health”

More about general mental health problems, but stunning numbers about mentally ill in relation to the prison population.


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