Unless you live in a cave, or don’t have access to Netflix (gasp!), you’re probably aware of one of the hottest new streaming shows: Orange Is the New Black.
Created by the mastermind behind Weeds, Jenji Kohan, the often hilarious — and many times heartbreaking — drama is based on the true story of Piper Kerman, and focuses on what transpired when she served a 15-month prison term for drug charges in Danbury, Connecticut.
Piper is an organic food-eating, soap-making, slightly spoiled thirtysomething who graduated from Smith, with a wild child past that’s caught up to her. In deciding to do her time, however, she encounters what prison is really like for most women: a sad place full of violence, racial tension, and little to no rights, especially for pregnant women.
According to data from The Sentencing Project, which gathered data about incarcerated women in the U.S., the female population in prisons has risen an astonishing 646% between 1980 and 2010. While nobody knows exactly why, the rise is due to tougher sentencing and a higher enforcement of drug laws. Women also tend to serve shorter sentences, which would lead to more of them cycling through the system. According to data from the same study, 1 in 25 women in state prisons and 1 in 33 in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.
So, how accurately does the show portray the lives of these incarcerated pregnant women? Here’s what we found out:
On OITNB: In the first season of OITNB, Daya’s sister memorably gave birth to a baby, and the newborn was promptly taken away from her.
In Real Life: In 1998, 1,400 women gave birth while incarcerated in the U.S. According to The Sentencing Project, the majority of children born to incarcerated mothers are immediately separated from their mothers after a mere 24 hours. While we’d love to say that perhaps the show is too harsh in its portrayal of incarcerated pregnancy, while researching this story we also found out that women can be shackled while pregnant and even while they are in labor in 13 states. Seriously? That’s not okay.
On OITNB: Many of the inmates are childless.
In Real Life: One big difference between reality for imprisoned women and the show is how relatively few of the inmates have children or discuss having them — whereas in real life, one in 33 women in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted and nearly two-thirds of women in prison are mothers.
On OITNB: Daya’s mother has a scheme to entice Officer ‘Pornstache’ Mendez to have sex with her daughter, with the intention of framing him for rape, although she actually got pregnant by having consensual sex with Officer Bennett. The plan fails when Pornstache uses a condom.
In Real Life: Consensual sex between guards and prisoners isn’t actually that uncommon in the penal system, and there have been pregnancies from them. Just a few cases: a female New York prison guard who was impregnated by a male inmate earlier this year, and this shocking case in Baltimore, in which a male prisoner impregnated four female guards. Another sad reality is the number of non-consensual sexual assaults between guards and prisoners. One author with the Prison Legal System called the problem of guard/prisoner sexual assault “rampant.”