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Orange is the New Black (OITNB): The Real Crisis of Incarcerated Women

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As Summer 2015 approaches, fans anxiously await the release of the third season of Netflix’s highly viewed comedy-drama series ‘Orange is the New Black’ (OITNB). The original series is based on Piper Kerman’s Memoir of her year spent within the confines of a women’s correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut.

Although OITNB has drawn more attention to the issues surrounding the life of women in prison, the majority of people fail to acknowledge the 646 percent increase of women in jail or prison in the United States over the last three decades.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “92% of all women in California prisons had been ‘battered and abused’ in their lifetimes” and “40 percent of criminal convictions leading to incarceration of women were for drug crimes”.

Given the evidence of the insanely drastic influx of women in jail or prisons and the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars, it is not unreasonable to expect corrections to invest in mental health, rehabilitation and reentry services back into the community after release?

One of the biggest challenges female inmates face is the induction of using the male prison model to incarcerate women.

“These are invisible women,” says Dr. Stephanie Covington, a psychologist and co-director of the Center For Gender and Justice, an advocacy group based in La Jolla, Calif. “Every piece of the experience of being in the criminal justice system differs between men and women.” – New York Times

In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47 which many consider historic landmark legislation to reduce incarceration rates and rehabilitation for low-level drug offenses. California is leading the trend to address sky rocketing incarceration rates in communities of color primarily affected by the war on drugs.

Proposition 47 is at the forefront of a national trend to reduce harsh criminal penalties that led to an explosion in prison and jail populations beginning in the 1980s. It follows a revision to California’s three strikes law that limits the maximum penalty to those whose last offense is serious or violent.

Along with the shift of nonviolent inmates from state prison to county jails approved by the state Legislature in 2011, Proposition 47 is expected to further transform California’s criminal justice landscape.  Read Full Article

In 2013, a total of $9.1 billion dollars was set into the California budget for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The CDCR saw a 39.5 million dollar decrease as a result in the reduction of projected average daily population.

Some of the major accomplishment included significant funding increases for rehabilitation at 14.9 million and mental health services at 10.3 million for adult inmates. However, the Department Juvenile Justice was decreased by 3.9 million dollars.

There is no shame in wanting to binge watch an entire season of OITNB in one night. However, if we want to put a halt to the reality of the rapidly growing rate of women being incarcerated as well as men, it is imperative that comprehensive treatment services and programs become a priority.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HltoN8H9tUg

Jessica Baes is a graduate student at the University of Southern California pursuing a Master in Social Work Degree. She is also a resident of Los Angeles County and have made it a high priority to bring awareness to the social issues surrounding the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County and the state of California. She has experience working at Twin Towers Correctional Facility and have studied the issues of women in prison through her graduate studies.

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