Speed Reads


John Oliver rebukes Texas, other states for 'cooking prisoners to death'

"We're allowed to have some summer fun, right?" John Oliver asked on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. He was joking, of course. "We're going to talk about prisons: There are tons of them in America, and when they get too hot, it can be a real problem," he said, playfully chiding any viewers who briefly believed there might be some "summer fun" on his show. "Don't be mad at me, be mad at yourself — you chose to be here."

Heat in prisons is a pretty good example of America's indifference to mass incarceration, Oliver said. In some of the hottest parts of the U.S., "over half the prisons lack air conditioning in their housing areas," a share that rises to nearly 75 percent in Texas, where the heat index inside prisons can hit 150 degrees. "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," he said. "And while you probably assumed Texas prisons were bad, maybe not international-human-rights watch-list bad." Texas officials are frankly aware of the problem, Oliver added, and "if someone helping to run a system is comparing it to a concentration camp, things have gotten way out of hand."

So why not just put in air conditioning? Texas lawmakers and prison officials say they can't afford it, though "they've occasionally been slightly more honest than they were perhaps planning to be" when answering that question, Oliver said. "And it seems that Texas in particular really doesn't want to put in air conditioning. It actually spent $7 million on a lawsuit to fight installing AC in one prison's housing area, despite the fact the estimated cost of installation was only around $4 million." Another Texas prison installed AC in its pigpens but not its prison cells.

"And while a lot of the facilities that I've shown you tonight have been in Texas, that is not because it's the only culprit, it's just one of the only states where this story has been extensively reported on camera," Oliver said. "There's actually an easy solution to this one problem, and that is: prisons need air conditioning, so put air conditioning in. That's it. I know this show has trained you to anticipate nuance, but this one is really pretty straightforward: We shouldn't be cooking prisoners to death, the end." (There is NSFW language.)