The season premiere of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix has sparked the New York Civil Liberties Union to launch a public education campaign to highlight the deplorable conditions at the Riverhead Correctional Facility, where some of the scenes are filmed, and demand that Suffolk County officials “stop stalling and clean up” both that jail and the Yaphank Correctional Facility.
“We’re thrilled the show is able to provide a glimpse into the lives of incarcerated people and the experiences they deal with,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton. “But a big part of our story is what won’t be shown on TV.”
In 2012, the NYCLU and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP filed a federal class-action lawsuit involving more than 100 inmates citing the “grotesquely inhumane conditions” at Suffolk’s two jails and citing overflowing sewage, chronic overcrowding, rodent and insect infestations, pervasive mold and rust, among other problems.
The County Attorney’s office had no comment “due to the pending litigation,” a spokeswoman told the Press.
Recently Suffolk County completed construction of a new $185 million facility in Yaphank as part of phase 1, but the second phase, which is slated to cost more than $114 million, has stalled. Meanwhile, Yaphank’s older facility remains open as does the Riverhead jail.
“Phase 1 has already been built and there’s actually more beds [there] than had originally been planned,” said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley). “Building these new jails is on the backs of Suffolk County taxpayers. There’s no state or federal funds to help build these things… It’s an old building! It’s got problems. But does the NYCLU have a big checkbook that they can write us a check for $114 million?”
The NYCLU said that its lawsuit makes the case that the county’s “longstanding indifference to the deplorable and well-documented conditions at the jails violates people’s constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.”
The lawsuit is still in the discovery mode, and the county has been stalling, according to Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the NYCLU.
“At least seventy-five percent of the people in there are simply awaiting trial,” Sinha explained. “We’re talking about basic human dignity here that every single person whether convicted or not should be entitled to.