"The death penalty is one of those things that's natural to want, but that you shouldn't necessarily have," says John Oliver, tackling the death penalty Sunday night on his new HBO show Last Week Tonight. "The death penalty is like the McRib. When you can't have it, it's so tantalizing. But as soon as they bring it back you think, this is ethically wrong. Should this be allowed in a civilized society?"
Though Oliver treats the death penalty with his usual hilarious brand of comedy, and a soothing finale featuring a hamster eating a tiny burrito, he does cover serious flaws in our nation's capital punishment system. "The death penalty is expensive, potentially kills innocent people, and doesn’t deter crime," says Oliver. He cites a recent National Academy of Sciences study that shows that 4% of death row inmates are innocent. Oliver also points out the staggering cost, showing a clip that reveals that in California alone, the total cost is $308 million per execution since 1976. It costs up to 10 times more to give someone the death penalty than life in prison. "What a death sentence is really saying is 'Hey! This is America! And the way we treat the most despicable members of our society is by spending the entire budget of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on them."
But the reason to abolish the death penalty comes down to much more than innocence and cost. It's about who we are as a nation, and who we want to be. Oliver closes the segment with this thought: "If we are going to answer difficult and profound questions, as the President told us to, the toughest one if probably if someone is guilty of committing a horrible crime and the family of the victim wants the perpetrator executed, do we want to live in the kind of country that gives that to them? I would say no."