John Oliver Explains How Cruel Mandatory Minimum Laws Ruin Lives


Earlier this month, President Obama granted clemency to 46 nonviolent drug offenders, which saw the largest number of presidential commutations granted in a single day since the 1960’s. As John Oliver noted on the latest Last Week Tonight, the move was particularly significant because each offender was subjected to harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require low-level offenders to be locked up regardless of the crime’s context.

“Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime,” Oliver explained in his take-down of unfair sentencing laws on Sunday. “Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick.

“The truth is that mandatory minimums didn’t just not work, they ruined lives.”

While failing to reduce crime, mandatory minimum laws also disproportionately target minority groups across the country.

“There should be a lot more pardons and commutations,” Oliver said. “But if we really want to address this problem permanently, we need states and the federal government, not just to repeal mandatory minimums going forward, but to also pass laws so that existing prisoners can apply for retroactively reduced sentences.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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