Stephen Colbert knows that he has a limited amount of time before his tenure as America’s purveyor of Truthiness is over and he is making the most of it. Proudly proclaiming that the show is “good to the last drop,” The Colbert Report featured an interview with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, both legendary singers, who were promoting their new album of duets. Together they sang the good old American Standard “Cheek to Cheek,” making it sound as classic as ever, yet somehow new and still full of life. But while this was an enjoyable piece of entertainment from two consummate performers of different generations, the show’s host still did his best to inform his viewers in the most hilarious way possible. on Tuesday night, Colbert had a word about American prisons, specifically those in California.
Colbert takes a lot of pride in his country and the chant “We’re Number One!” has been heard more than once in the studio. But it was conspicuously absent from the news that America produces the most prisoners in the world, more even than China with its strict laws from a communist government. California’s prison population has increased 750 percent since the 1970s and it is mostly due to its draconian Three Strikes Law. That law gives a minimum 25 year sentence after the third strike, regardless of whether it is a serious crime or if the person in question is violent.
Which brought the show’s host to a favorite segment: “The Word.” The night’s word was “Crook and Ladder” as he talked about “activist judges” interfering in the prison system and the fact that California has basically done nothing to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. One reason the Golden State may be stalling is the fact that prisoners represent a virtually free work force. Prisoners get paid only two dollars per day for their work. One important job is fighting forest fires, which the state has a lot of. Using prisoners to do this important work saves around $100 million a year for the notoriously bankrupt state. How could California pass that up just to free prisoners from what has been called “cruel and unusual punishment?”
The court deemed the conditions of overcrowding as contravening standards of treatment for the incarcerated, a key part of maintaining their basic rights. But since California is already ignoring that to save a few bucks, Colbert suggested a better solution to the problem. Instead of releasing criminals, they should just build more prisons. Colbert said he knew a really cheap workforce. And since they were already being treated like virtual slaves, he suggested they could build a few pyramids, too.
Stephen Colbert’s word about America’s prisons was necessary, but it did not elicit the laughs that other words in the segment have in the past. While he did his best to throw in a few jokes, many people might have found t difficult to laugh about this little-known fact. The injustice of being denied freedom simply because they are a cheap workforce may strike many people as too awful to laugh at. All in all, the segment on The Colbert Report was a necessary piece of reporting, but it was difficult to find it funny despite the host’s best efforts.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury