Does ‘Orange is the New Black’ Empower Female Inmates? Taylor Schilling Says Yes

Orange is the New Black has been able to do the unthinkable — create a show with an almost entirely female cast, about an almost entirely marginalized group, and make it appeal to anything but a niche audience. But does the show also have social value? Orange is the New Black‘s lead actress Taylor Schilling presented an argument that it does in an episode of The New York TimesTimes Talk” series that focused on a widening selection of roles for strong female characters in television.

People who are working on alternatives to incarceration and working with women who are transitioning from prison life back to civilian life are really finding value in the show, that it’s giving the population they’ve been working so hard for a name and a voice.

Schilling also discussed how Orange is the New Black‘s quality has solidified Netflix as a major network and cable TV competitor, partially because of the same traits that attracted her to the script herself — one of them being the show’s value in social justice.

My reaction to the show isn’t that different from someone off the street. I was really struck by the honesty… and the diversity of the women.

Taylor Schilling plays Piper Kerman, the woman who wrote the memoir Orange is the New Black that the series is based on. Earlier this year, Kerman herself testified before a special Senate Judiciary committee calling for more oversight on the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), reported The Huffington Post. Piper made an especially impassioned speech about solitary confinement, or as Orange is the New Black fans will correctly call it SHU (Special Housing Unit).

It would be hard to overstate how pervasive the use of solitary is against not just serious transgressions but against very minor infractions, certainly in the BOP in my experience and my observation. I know many, many women who have spent time in the SHU, many women who have spent potentially short times in the SHU for very minor infractions — something like having very low-level contraband, something like refusing a direct order from a corrections office — that can easy land you in the SHU for terms of 30 days and sometimes longer.

The Huff Po article also notes that women may be sent to SHU for infractions as minor as masturbating and using coarse language. Orange is the New Black often depicts such arbitrary uses of the punishment. Parallel events in real life women’s prisons often seem like they wouldn’t be out of place in the off-color universe of Orange is the New Black. Recently, a prison in Ohio stopped using orange jumpsuits because they felt that Orange is the New Black had made them “too cool.”

What do you think? Has Orange is the New Black changed the way you think about solitary confinement and other prison conditions? Do you agree with Taylor Schilling’s “Times Talk” comments?