Orange is the New Black: the Truth of Privatized Prisons

July 23, 2019

Spoiler warning: Possible spoilers of the Netflix original “Orange is the New Black” up to season six.

 

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash  

 

Orange is the New Black (OITNB)—loved and binged by many—is back next month for its last season on Netflix.. The show is based on a book by Piper Kirkman with the same title,her experiences in a women’s prison. The book features some of the same characters we have come to love on the show, with their experiences being very similar. 

 

Within the last few seasons, viewers have watched, stunned, as the show demonstrated prison riots, inhumane abuse, treatment, and nourishment, encouragement of gang violence within prisons, slavery-like conditions of many prisons, inmate deaths, minimal health care, sexual violence, and exploitation of inmates, among many other disturbing images that are all too real in the United States’ prison system.. As the show has unfolded, it demonstrated the vast differences between state-run and privately-run prisons.. The show has shown us that state-run facilities have more rehabilitation programs, better health care, and lower recidivism (reoffense rates). Under the state-run system, the prison was definitely still a prison, but it allowed the women to learn a trade and participate in clubs and activities; however, it was run by an overworked but caring enough warden. 

 

Once a privatized corporation took over, however, the jobs were lost, private sectors rented the women out for ridiculously low wages that they did not end up seeing, all of the jobs and extracurriculars offered were taken away, and violence broke out. The malcontent continues to build until a massive riot breaks out and a guard is killed. The season finale of season six demonstrates the political climate, violence, danger, focus on profits, and partnerships with federal organizations, such as Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), of many of the maximum security prisons. It also shows that many of these prisons are not meant to rehabilitate, but only to further enforce criminal behavior as a way to continue profit. 

 

Private prisons claim that they are meant to benefit the American taxpayers by being a business as opposed to a government run organization. However, there has been no evidence that they are actually saving taxpayers any money, according to Fox News. In reality, the private prison companies are taking advantage of the “War on Drugs” started in the 1980s by the Reagan Administration and capitalizing on many American citizens. Private prisons are paid a certain amount per inmate they take in from the federal government. The more people in jail, the more money these companies make. There has been multiple different examples of private prison companies offering bribes to different police officers, judges, and other officials that may have a stake in people’s sentencing in order to get more people sentenced to private prisons so they can earn more money from the federal government, according to Justice Policy.  These companies bribe not only criminal justice officials, but they also lobby for specific campaigns, politicians, and other companies in order to earn more money. In 2013, there was a case where a large private prison was lobbying and donating to a campaign that was working to stop immigration reform so more and more undocumented people would be found in their facitilites, thus earning them more money, according to Justice Policy. 

 

The Obama Administration created policies and set in motion the possibility of phasing out privatized prisons, but in 2017, Jeff Sessions reversed those policies to continue the already very high use of private prisons, according to the Sentencing Project. Private prisons are seen as a new form of slavery because corportations essentially “rent out” cheap labor from inmates, promising possible wages, but pay minimal amounts of money that many inmates never see go to their commissary. Inmates work for corporations, doing things like making underwear (as seen in OITNB) or working in even more so grueling conditions outside in drastic weather, risking their lives while making virtually no money. Many inmates recently were firefighters during the fires in California this past year.  

 

Orange is the New Black is a great show, but it does much more to entertain. OITNB has brought to light many atrocities that happen every day within the United States’ criminal justice. OITNB has increased advocacy for the men in women who live under these policies. It has also increased awareness, education, and activism for many different causes. OITNB has done a lot for its viewers and it will be very sad to see the show end this July.It will definitely leave many of its viewers hanging, heart broken, and educated like it has done for many years.

 

Elizabeth Coleman is a passionate writer from Massachusetts. She is twenty three years old and is currently working on her MS from Nova Southeastern University in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She graduated last year from Keene State College with two BAs, one in Holocaust and Genocide Studies with a minor in history and the other in Criminal Justice Studies. Elizabeth loves to read, but her all time favorite book would have to be "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. In five years, Elizabeth hopes to be investigating extremism and hate groups in the United States. Elizabeth steps up for justice, equality, and making the world a bit better for everyone.

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