Orange is the New Black and Recidivism: The Need for Accurate Media Representations of the Many Causes of Incarceration

Actor Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Netflix's Orange Is The New Black (Photo credit: Netflix / Orange is the New Black)

By Guest Contributor:Rachel Ko

About 50,000 people a year exit incarceration only to enter immediately into homeless shelters; legal restrictions and discrimination against individuals with criminal records are often to blame. As has been well-documented, the incarceration rate for African Americans is more than six times the incarceration rate for white Americans. African Americans also make up more than 40 percent of the homeless population, despite representing only 13 percent of the general population.

Even though general statistics don’t simultaneously track the effects of race on incarceration and homelessness, anti-Black racial stigma amplifies the measurable social impacts of both. Individuals released from prisons are more likely to be re-arrested for misdemeanor offense they commit in order to survive on the streets, but many scholars have failed to sufficiently connect recidivism, homelessness and incarceration.

A more successful representation of these connections is the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black. Through Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, a compassionate, intelligent, and likeable African American character, Orange is the New Black sheds light on the lack of rehabilitative resources and support systems that cause re-incarceration of individuals suffering from poverty. Taystee’s story shows us that crime is not a single action; rather, it is a series of events and complex social factors.

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