Like the rest of you, I was incredibly excited to binge watch (and complete) the second season of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix this past weekend. There has been a significant shift from character-based story lines to episodes revolving around daily prison operations and how they inflict hardships on the female prisoners. The changed not only made sense, but worked very well.
While the women of OITNB continue to face miserable conditions at the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary (watch the epidosde "It Was the Change") it's nothing compared to what the inmates experience in the same prison where the show is filmed, as well as other correctional facilities in the surrounding areas of Suffolk County.
According Ujala Sehgal, who is the Deputy Communications Director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, “Riverhead jail in Long Island – just a hop, skip, and a jump from the white sands and posh life of the Hamptons – is notorious for its inhumane conditions. Raw sewage bubbles from the floor, toilets explode, rodents and roaches infest the kitchens, black mold covers the walls, and drinking and bathing water runs brown and stinks of sewage.”
Prisoners recall that they would sometimes wake up with flooded floors, and experience such poor plumbing that what was flushed in one toilet would often end up in another cell. Former prisoner Jason Porter describes many conditions that he faced in prison:
Before OITNB brought these issues to light for the general public, “the New York Civil Liberties Union and Shearman & Sterling LLP filed a class-action lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of current and future prisoners in Suffolk County jails. The suit demanded that the county clean up its jails for violating people's constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and for showing deliberate indifference to the harms incarcerated people are suffering.”
Yet, even with the lawsuit, Suffolk County has yet to make even basic repairs.
The ACLU has called for fans of the show to support basic human rights and stand against these horrible, inhumane conditions. They are encouraging viewers to post photos wearing orange and holding signs to demand that Suffolk County fix its jails.
Sehgal ends his critique by stating, “there’s something seriously wrong when Hollywood can film a show at a jail, but actors can't drink the water that real people living there are forced to drink.”