Orange Is The New Black, everyone’s new favorite show, is based on a true story. Officer Porn-stache, Big Red the prison cook, and Piper Chapman, the sweet, yuppie purveyor of artisan bath products-turned-convicted felon–they’re all modeled after real people.
Lichfield Correctional Facility, the federal prison where they reside–that’s based on a real place too, except the prison where the real Piper served her time is actually in Danbury, Connecticut.
Piper Kerman, author of the memoir Orange Is The New Black, is now an advocate for prisoners. She penned an op-ed in today’s New York Times about plans the prison has to relocate its female inmates to far-flung facilities several states away from their families and support systems.
Starting this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons will transfer the more than 1,000 women incarcerated in the main facility at Danbury to other prisons across the country to convert it to a men’s prison (the small satellite camp immediately adjacent, where I served my time, will still incarcerate approximately 210 women). The bureau says the plan will ease overcrowding in its men’s prisons.
Kerman says the effect would be devastating on the inmates at Danbury, calling the added distance “a second sentence” for prisoners.
The Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, plans to send most women from Danbury to a prison in Alabama, and possibly to other ones farther afield. For many families these new locations might as well be the moon. The prison system also does not ensure that the women return home successfully or even safely. When I was released from a Chicago prison in March 2005 — I had been sent there on a writ to testify in court and to serve the remainder of my sentence — I was given $28 and a Windbreaker. I was unusually fortunate that my fiancé was able to come there to take me home to New York.
As as alternative to shipping inmates off to other prisons, Kerman suggests the Justice Department look into a program announced earlier this year by Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes.
JusticeHome, which is administered by the New York nonprofit Women’s Prison Association, would allow some felons to serve their sentences from home.
JusticeHome is based on another program piloted by Hynes’ office, a group home called Drew House, which opened in 2008. A recent study by researchers from Columbia University’s School of Nursing found the program was effective, and recommended expanding it to accommodate more inmates.
There’s an added benefit for taxpayers too: JusticeHome only costs about $15,000 year–significantly less than the price to incarcerate an inmate in a federal prison.
Read Piper’s the full op-ed in today’s New York Times.