John Oliver Discusses How American Prisons Are “Cooking Prisoners to Death” in Latest Segment
John Oliver—or, as I like to call him, Better Zazu—has been at the forefront of talking about prison reform. He has done multiple segments pointing out the human rights issues surrounding multiple elements of the American prison process, from incarceration itself to reentry into society for those who have served their time. In his latest segment, he spoke about the issue of prison heat.
“It’s been getting hotter and hotter outside … so tonight, we’re going to talk about popsicles. There are tons of them in America, and when they get too hot, it can be a real problem,” Oliver started off, with his usual bait and switch. “Sorry, did I say popsicles? I meant prisons.”
He then went on to explain that in states like Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, over half the prisons do not have air conditioning in their housing areas. In Texas, specifically, almost 75% of prisons don’t have air conditioning, despite the fact that the heat index inside of them can reach 150 degrees.
These conditions exacerbate preexisting medical conditions for older prisoners, those with mental illnesses, and anyone with a preexisting heart condition.
“This situation is so bad the U.N. Committee Against Torture has expressed particular concern about deaths from extreme heat exposure in prison facilities in Texas,” Oliver brings up. “And while you probably assumed Texas prisons were bad, maybe not ‘International Human Rights Watch List’ bad.”
Whenever issues of reforming prison conditions are brought up, people are often quick to say, “Well should it be a spa?” or some sort of dismissive comment that is meant to reduce the humanity of these people. Lance Lowry, a correctional officer and former head of the union for correctional officers, put it well: “We’re not trying to make this lush. We are trying to make it humane. These are third-world conditions. We’re supposed to run prisons, not concentration camps.”
He then added, “Incarceration is their punishment, not cooking them to death.”
Officials claim that it would be too expensive, but the real issue is that they do not think that people in prison deserve it, as one Democratic Senator from Texas explained during a radio interview played in the segment: “You know, we can talk about this all day, it’s not gonna change. The prisons are hot. They’re uncomfortable. And the real solution is don’t commit a crime, and you stay at home and be cool. We’re not gonna air condition them. One, we don’t want to. Number two, we couldn’t afford it if we wanted to.”
Yet, they are managing to spend money on lawsuits to avoid doing it, while delivering absurd estimates of how much it would cost in order to justify themselves to an already apathetic public.
Not to mention perpetuating the idea that no innocent person has ever been to prison. So, ask yourself: Would you want the most vulnerable person in your life to be in prison without air conditioning during a 150-degree day?
(via Deadline, image: HBO/screenshot)
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