How “Orange Is The New Black” is Inspiring Prison Reform

Anyone else feel the need to assuage their conscience after mainlining season two of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black? So the dishes in your sink went unwashed through the weekend. So you didn’t set foot outdoors. What you may not have known is that while you were binging, you helped support a show with a terrific social agenda—both in real-life and onscreen.

The team behind OITNB is helping to spur a movement for prison reform throughout New York state—and the campaign is currently criss-crossing the Twittersphere as #HumanityIstheNewBlack. The New York Civil Liberties Union began this effort after Jenji Kohan and her team filmed several scenes from season two “on location,” at the Riverhead Jail in Suffolk County.

Just like the show’s fictional Litchfield Prison, Riverhead Jail has experienced horrific plumbing problems—think asbestos in the pipes, mold in the air, brown drinking water and a thirty-day sewage flood. It turns out that Piper’s vigilante quest on the show for improved prison conditions was less fiction than an unsettling echo of fact. Erm, spoiler alert. The state of affairs in U.S prisons in general remains shockingly sub “first world”—despite the fact that one in thirty five Americans spend time in prison at some point in their lives. The Twitter campaign, inspired by the series, hopes to change that.

You’re probably already well-acquainted with the many reasons why Orange Is the New Black is changing television for all of humankind, but the Kohan team deserves especial kudos for staging such a funny, intelligent, heartbreaking serial in an often overlooked locale. I know that if we’ve learned anything from Taystee and P and Piper and the gang, it’s that people in prison are people, too.

So binge away, ladies! Just don’t forget to punctuate your episodes with a quick visit to the #HumanityIstheNewBlack web page, to see what you can do to help affect prison reform near you.

(Images via The Suffolk Times and NYCLU)

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