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The Newest Season of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Reflects America’s F*cked Up Prison System


Like many others, I had been eagerly awaiting Season 5 of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. It is a show that possesses incredible character development, represents women of color and the LGBTQ+ community, and humanizes prisoners in a way that is novel to how society has portrayed this ignored percentage of our population.

But with this new season, I noticed yet another thought-provoking aspect of this show. To recap, the new season depicts the inmates igniting a prison riot due to injustice and unfair treatment they’ve faced.

Eventually, they release a list of demands and the things they ask for are alarmingly reflective to our prison system’s stark reality today.

The top things they request is:

  • Replacing current guards with properly trained ones
  • Reinstatement of the GED program
  • Better health care
  • End to arbitrary and degrading use of searches and solitary confinement

This list also comes along with the request of Takis and Hot Cheetos in the commissary, but nevertheless, these demands are compiled of the greatest true-to-life issues facing inmates in America’s prison system today.

Replacing Current Guards with Properly Trained Ones

Most prison guards are taught with a “us vs. them” mentality. This encourages hostility and the fraternal “code of silence” they have towards violence against inmates. America should look towards Scandinavian countries, which promote training where the guards and inmates instead share the space side-by-side rather than fighting for it; furthermore, there is more emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Reinstatement of the GED Program

70% of inmates have not completed high school.  

A GED program can seriously improve an inmate’s chance of leading a successful life after prison; education plays a huge role in ending the debilitating cycle of mass incarceration. Armed with an education, they have a greater chance of finding a stable job rather than resorting to crime once again.

Better Health Care

Health care towards physical conditions are already lacking in our prison systems, but health care for mental illnesses is even more scarce behind bars. 18% of the general population have a mental health diagnosis, but within the prison population, a whopping 26% possess a mental health diagnosis. This is almost 1 in 4 inmates behind bars that are not receiving the proper health care they need for their condition.

End to Degrading Searches and Solitary Confinement

As an inmate, many given rights that normal citizens enjoy are given up for safety and security. However, they are still protected from unnecessary and degrading strip and cavity searches, without probable cause. Furthermore, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), does not specify whether a male or female officer should search a transgender detainee. More than half of the complaints against strip searches come from transgender women who were strip-searched by male officers.

Solitary confinement means spending 22-23 hours in a cell.

The psychological toll of this type of isolation has extreme effects on inmate’s well beings. Even worse, there is a direct connection between those with mental illnesses being condemned to solitary confinement more than others.

These top issues plaguing our prison system today require radical change in the near future. “Orange Is the New Black” has done a phenomenal job in bringing these problems to our attention and promoting widespread awareness of a foreign world that we are never exposed to.

For even more insight, here is a guide that real inmates wrote about how they would run prisons themselves.

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I am a Political Science major at CSU-Sacramento, with a concentration in International Relations. You can find me writing about any of the forbidden dinner table topics such as religion, sex, or politics. Check out my personal blog at !

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