Those intensely unlikable private prison executives on “Orange is the New Black” are back at it in Netflix’s newly released Season 4 — and their pro-bottom line, anti-inmate wisecracks are as offensively realistic as they’ve ever been.
Did you catch the drug-war joke cracked by cold-hearted prison exec Linda in Episode 5, “We’ll Always Have Baltimore”? I just watched that episode this weekend — and it hit so close to our modern reality that I had to share it here. Spoiler alert: This post won’t include any spoilers after the fifth episode of “OITNB’s” fourth season.
Beyond ‘Orange is the New Black:’ What we know about the War on Drugs
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Linda (played by Beth Dover) is the director of purchasing for MCC, the private prison group that runs the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary. Perhaps more importantly, Linda becomes warden Joe Caputo’s (Nick Sandow) love interest in this very same episode — and we’ve known all season that Caputo’s been crushing on Linda and also looks up to her in the corporate meetings he’s still new to.
And that’s how Caputo finds his way to corrections industries conference CorrectiCon — with Linda as his guide. First we see them perusing the various industry booths peddling everything from laser guns to faith-based rehabilitation programs, anti-drone nets to reusable menstrual cups.
The prison industry convention is old hat to Linda, a veteran of such events. But the recently promoted Caputo can’t believe his eyes, and he’s completely won over by the commercial innovations and progressive ideas being presented at the expo.
Later on at the hotel bar, Caputo and Linda are perusing a schedule of the conference’s panels, classes and break-outs — including one titled Shanks For the Memories: A History of Prison Weapons. That’s when conference rookie Caputo sees a panel that catches his eye.
Caputo: “Immigration Violations: The Next Goldmine.” (He takes his glasses off and looks at Linda.) What was the last goldmine?
Linda: The War on Drugs, I guess? (She smiles, shrugs and takes a sip of her chardonnay.)
I visibly flinched when Linda shrugged away her joke — yikes. The Atlantic’s critic didn’t miss the too-real joke in his review of the episode, either.
You do get the sense (Linda is) a bit of a power nut, getting turned on by karate moves and blithely joking about the War on Drugs as a goldmine for her employer.
Here’s what stings about Linda’s joke.
Nearly half of the inmates now serving time in federal prisons are there for drug offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. As of May 2016, 84,911 inmates — or 46.3 percent of all federal inmates — are there because of drugs.
(Some perspective: In 1970, only 3,384 federal inmates were serving time for drug charges — or 16.3 percent of the total federal prison population at the time.)
More than 17 percent of those serving time on drug charges in 2015 were there for marijuana — a figure that has been trending down since voters in Colorado and Washington voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, according to United States Sentencing Commission data.
Weed arrests have long been seen as a guaranteed revenue stream for the correctional industry — and it’s one that some prison executives don’t want to see go away.
As California approaches its monumental vote on recreational cannabis this November, around half of the funds raised for the campaign against retail weed are linked to law enforcement and prison groups such as the California Correctional Supervisor’s Organization, The Intercept reported a few months ago.
And those private, for-profit prisons mocked by the “OITNB” writing room? Business is booming in that sector. In 2015, there were 130 private prisons in the U.S. with 157,000 beds and $3.3 billion in annual revenue. The private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a Justice Policy Institute report.
Linda referring to the War on Drugs as the prison industry’s “last goldmine” suggests that the Drug War is over. While we’re not there yet, this change in how we view and treat cannabis — backed up by President Barack Obama’s commuting non-violent drug offenders’ sentences — is still fresh enough that such a callous joke still stings.