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Watch John Oliver and some muppets explain America's out of control prison system

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

How bad is the mass incarceration problem in the US? So bad that Sesame Street featured a muppet with a father in prison, so as to help the 2.7 million American children with an incarcerated parent understand what happened.

Incarcerated people, parents or not, face a system that subjects them to often horrific conditions, and which is beyond racist in its impact. "It reminds me of a joke," John Oliver explained on Last Week Tonight last night. "'Black people who commit drug offenses, they go to jail like this, whereas white people don't go to jail at all." Watch him walk through, in considerable detail, every problem in our corrections system from the epidemic of prison rape to the perverse incentives created by prison privatization to the alleged use of sugar to treat wounds in prison clinics:

Curious about how to rein in the prison state? It's worth considering the role that GPS monitoring can play, and there's plenty more on federal and state efforts in this domain in the Vox archives. Also, be sure to watch Ezra Klein's interview with Piper Kerman, whose memoir of her experience in a federal prison, Orange is the New Black, was adapted into the Netflix series of the same name, on the myriad failures of the American prison system: