Let John Oliver Show You How America’s Overworked Public Defense System Screws the Poor


On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took America’s criminal justice system to task by highlighting the problems surrounding overworked and under-resourced public defenders across the country—including in one California county where only 60 public attorneys are responsible for a staggering 42,000 cases a year.

“A thousands cases in a year? That’s nearly 3 cases per day,” Oliver noted on Sunday. “Those are Gerard Depardieu wine consumption numbers—at breakfast. And with caseloads that heavy, public defenders cannot possibly prepare an effective defense.”

As Mother Jones has reported in the past, such systematic failures are often paid for by the country’s most vulnerable and poor.

To help make his point, Oliver recruited the likes of television detectives, including Dennis Quaid and Jeremy Sisto, to rewrite the Miranda rights warning to more accurately depict the public defense system’s challenges.

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Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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