Piper Kerman, the author who created the work that inspired the popular Netflix show, Orange is the New Black, demanded that Congress do something to reform the “patriarchal” criminal justice system in comments at a House committee on Tuesday.
The writer told the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing that America’s justice system is “built by and for men, governed by policies and procedures developed for male prisoners.”
“American prisons and jails are built by and for men, governed by policies and procedures developed for male prisoners,” Kerman told a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on women and girls in the criminal justice system. “I can assure you there is no institution more hierarchical, dominance-oriented, patriarchal and based on the threat and promise of violence than an American prison. This is not an accident; it is by design.”
The author told the committee that incarceration rates for women have increased at two times the rate for men over the last forty years and that prison stays can “impact” women for the “rest of their lives.”
Kerman, who spent 13 months behind bars on drug charges in the 1990s, also claimed to have witnessed a female prisoner give birth in a prison hospital ward only to be returned to her cell the next day and told the committee that the incident was shocking to her.
“I remember just being so confused… it never occurred to me that there would be pregnant women in prison,” Kerman said.
“And I am still deeply confused by that,” she said, adding, “I am deeply troubled by the fact that so many women enter prison and of course they’ve already gone through an entire process prior to incarceration, and that our choice as a society is to force them to go through their pregnancy and childbirth while in custody.”
Kerman insisted that the pregnant woman she witnessed was ignored by hospital staffers during her 12-hour labor and that other inmates were the only ones to tend to her.
Her experiences in jail led her to pen Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, the book that was made into the hit TV series.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.