Law in Popular Culture

ACLU and BigLaw firm use 'Orange is the New Black' in hashtag effort to promote NY jail reform

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Life in a women’s prison definitely has its downside in a popular Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. But the reality is much worse, contend advocates for prison reform.

Using the show as a springboard, they have launched a social media campaign this week, at the outset of the show’s second season, in an effort to enlist viewers to help press for improvement in the New York jails. Orange is the New Black filmed scenes for its recently released second season at the Riverhead correctional facility in Suffolk County, New York

Raw sewage is the basis of many of the complaints by prisoners concerning conditions at Riverhead and other jails, which also focus on mold, roaches, rodents and chilly temperatures.

Among those behind the Humanity is the New Black hashtag effort are the New York Civil Liberties Union and Shearman & Sterling, which are also involved in a stalled federal civil rights class action on behalf of Suffolk County inmates, according to the New Yorker (sub. req.) and Newsday (sub. req.).

A NYCLU Web page about the #HumanityIsTheNewBlack campaign urges viewers of the Netflix show to contact county officials and complain and notes that some New Yorkers are wearing orange in support of the jail-reform campaign.

Another NYCLU page urges readers to post comments on Twitter and includes a draft email they can send to the county executive. However, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told Newsday, through a spokesman, that he is not responsible for prisons and referred the newspaper to the county sheriff and county attorney.

A spokesman for the sheriff declined to comment specifically on a matter that is in litigation, but said prisons meet state standards, the newspaper reports. “It’s fictional. It’s a dark comedy. It’s not a documentary,” Mike Sharkey, the sheriff’s chief of staff, said of the TV program.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Blog of Rights, the Nation and the Washington Post’s She the People blog also have stories.

An earlier NYCLU blog post provides details about the Eastern District of New York class action over jail conditions.

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