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The ‘OITNB’ Litchfield prison is fake, but the conditions are very real

No TV magic necessary here, unfortunately.


Tom Harrington

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 10, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 4:14 am CDT

If you wondered how the makers of Orange Is the New Black managed to make the shower drains back up with excrement in season 2 (come on, you’ve had four days to get up to date), it turns out there may not have been any televisual trickery involved at all. Rather, it seems that at Suffolk County’s jail at Riverhead, where scenes of the Netflix show are filmed, rivers of feces are just one of the unsanitary conditions that prisoners must endure.

Following on from a federal class action lawsuit filed in April 2012, the New York Civil Liberties Union have launched a campaign, #HumanityistheNewBlack, encouraging New Yorkers to wear orange to raise awareness and stop the abusive conditions at the real OITNB jail. 

Just some of the complaints from Riverhead outlined in the lawsuit include:

  • A feces flood that lasted 30 hours: Prisoners described crowding onto a small table to avoid the 6-inch layer of excrement flooding the jail floor after toilets exploded, spraying feces and urine as high as the ceiling.
  • Sewage that regularly bubbles up from shower drains and toilets: Due to a phenomenon known as “Ping-Pong” toilets caused by a dilapidated plumbing system, human waste from one toilet can gush out of the toilet in an adjoining cell.
  • Decrepit showers that are coated with thick, black mold and reek of mildew and faucets and pipes that are rusted over
  • Air vents so caked with rust, mold, and dirt that ventilation is affected and the air reeks of feces, urine, and mold
  • Widespread vermin infestations
  • Unsanitary kitchens and dining areas that are covered with mold, rust, and chipping paint

Unlike the characters on OITNB, most of the prisoners held at Riverhead haven’t been convicted of any crime—many are just too poor to afford bail.

H/T New Yorker | Photo via Lindsay Blair Brown/Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 10, 2014, 9:01 am CDT