Around 6,000 federal prisoners were scheduled for release this month after a loosening of the harsh mandatory minimum sentences that came with three decades of successful and definitely not futile War on Drugs. It’s the largest single prison release in U.S. history. But, as John Oliver explained on his show Sunday night, they’re about to encounter the shitty, broken process of prison re-entry.
Prisoners, even exonerated ones, often get out with little to no money—maybe enough for a bus ride and a meal—and in many states they’re not eligible for food benefits or public housing (even if their families already live there).
They’re also banned from government jobs and many professions. And good luck getting an interview for one of the jobs you can hold when you have to check the “convicted of a felony” box on the application.
And once you do get a job, good luck keeping it when you have to build your work schedule around meetings with your parole officer.
But you don’t have to take the word of John Oliver, a man who has presumably never been to prison. The last part of the segment is an interview with Bilal Chatman, who, like most of the 6,000 people being released this week, spent time in prison for a non-violent drug offense. Chatman did manage to keep his job, but he had to beat a system stacked against him to do it.
By the way, here are a few things worth noting about the newly released prisoners, as various news outlets raise a panic that they might be dangerous: First, they’re mostly nonviolent drug offenders who would have gotten out in a couple of years anyway. Second, 600,000 people get out of U.S. prisons every year. 6,000 more will barely make a statistical dent. Third, about a third of them are foreign nationals who will be deported upon release.