'Orange Is the New Black' Is About to Pull the Lid off a Huge Scandal

May 11th 2016

Lucy Tiven

"Orange Is the New Black" just released a season 4 trailer that teases major shake-ups for its inmate characters — and promises to tackle an aspect of the U.S. prison system.

The trailer picks up where the season 3 finale left off: a private corporation takes over Litchfield prison so it can stay financially solvent, and the prison receives an influx of new inmates as a result. In the trailer, Litchfield appears overcrowded and chaotic, and tensions seem to run high among the show's inmate population and prison staff.

“I’ve been in Litchfield for a while now and I have started to feel unsafe lately," protagonist Piper Chapman (Taylor Shilling) asserts.

There are real issues facing private prisons in the U.S.

Litchfield's change of guard makes for an intriguing plot twist, but it also suggests that the show will delve into the private prison system.

State-run prisons often outsource to private companies due to cost. Running a prison is extremely expensive — as ATTN: has previously reported, the cost of incarcerating a single inmate averages between $24,000 and 30,000 a year.

for profit prison

But when private companies take over, inmates often suffer. "Corporate-owned prisons and privately-contracted service providers are linked to food contamination, gross medical neglect, and poor sanitation," reporter Carimah Townes wrote on Think Progress.

The majority of private prison companies also have occupancy guarantees that keep prisons between 80 and 90 percent full. This system creates overcrowded prisons and financially incentivizes incarcerating people for longer periods of time.

A 2015 study from the University of Wisconsin found that "privatized prisons are keeping inmates locked up longer in order to boost profits," Mother Jones reported. Mother Jones continues:

"Researcher Anita Mukherjee studied eight years* of data from Mississippi, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and found that private prisons there doled out twice the amount of infractions against inmates, lengthening their sentences by an average of two or three months."

As ATTN: has previously reported, private prison companies often lobby for "tough on crime" policies in order to keep prisons full. In 2015, ProPublica reported that the Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company — had spent $17.4 million lobbying government for stricter laws and longer sentences in the past ten years.

Prison Bunking

Private prison companies have also diversified their business model to include treatment and rehabilitation centers and halfway houses.

"As state governments work to reduce prison populations by creating alternatives to incarceration, the private prison industry is rebranding itself and taking over treatment alternatives," Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said previously in a statement sent to ATTN:.

You can watch the full trailer below and on YouTube. Season 4 is set to premier on June 17.

[h/t Jezebel]

Correction: 5/12 11:16 a.m. PST: This story was updated to include the correct last name for the character Piper Chapman.