'Orange Is the New Black' viewers urged to press for changes at Suffolk County Jail

Suffolk County’s jail facilities in Riverhead, which had a two-day role during filming of the TV prison show, “Orange is the New Black,” is at the center of a social media campaign to draw attention to conditions at the jail. New York Civil Liberties Union used this week’s launch of the popular Netflix show's second season to highlight inmate conditions. Newsday File Footage 2011. (Photo Credit: Handout)

The Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, which had a two-day role during filming of the TV jail show "Orange Is the New Black," is at the center of a social media campaign to draw attention to conditions at the jail.

The New York Civil Liberties Union used this week's launch of the popular Netflix show's second season to encourage viewers to contact Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to improve conditions at the jail. The campaign is using the hashtag Humanity is the New Black on social media sites including Twitter.

The NYCLU and the Manhattan law firm of Shearman & Sterling filed a class-action lawsuit in 2012 against Suffolk County. They alleged that jail facilities in Riverhead and Yaphank smelled of sewage and had rat infestations and dirty water running from faucets, and that inmates were exposed to excessive cold.


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"What we love, why we connect with the show, is how it portrays the humanity of the characters," said Corey Stoughton, senior staff attorney with the NYCLU. "To be filmed at a place that treats people as less than human -- it's ironic."

Michael Sharkey, chief of staff for county Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, said he couldn't comment on specific allegations because of the lawsuit, which is pending.

But Sharkey said the jail is regulated by the state Commission of Correction, which sets standards. "We meet those standards," he said.

Sharkey said the show filmed for two days in January inside the housing area and the recreational area at the jail in Riverhead.

"It's fictional. It's a dark comedy. It's not a documentary," Sharkey said. The show compensated the sheriff's office for staff expense.

Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said the county executive "does not manage or have oversight of the jail" and referred questions to the sheriff's office and county attorney's office, which could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

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