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The fifth season of Netflix's groundbreaking dramedy "Orange is the New Black" ended in a violent raid on the Litchfield Penitentiary following an inmate uprising. The fate of the incarcerated characters remained unclear for almost a year until a teaser revealed that the women would be transferred from a minimum to maximum security prison in the wake of the riots.
But what, exactly, is the difference between minimum and maximum security prison?
In the United States, there are currently 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,163 local jails, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit advocacy group. Prisons in the U.S. are separated into various levels of security—low, medium, high, complex, and administrative—based on the types of offenders who are housed inside and how the facilities are maintained.
Minimum security prisons supply dormitory-style housing and contain limited or no fencing, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. These facilities often provide work programs for the incarcerated and tend to have fewer guards and staff, as seen in earlier seasons of "Orange is the New Black."
The other levels differ largely in perimeter and staffing. A high security prison, for example, has "highly secured perimeters (featuring walls or reinforced fences), multiple- and single-occupant cell housing, the highest staff-to-inmate ratio, and close control of inmate movement," according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
The population of higher level security prisons generally contain gang members, violent offenders, and prisoners serving decades-long or life sentences, according to a 2016 article in Forbes. More than 50% of the population of higher level security prisons have committed violent crimes.
"Violent events are more likely to occur at higher security prisons," the Federal Bureau of Prisons said to Forbes in a statement.
Overcrowding at both minimum and maximum security prisons remains a huge problem in the U.S. According to Prison Legal News, a project by the Human Rights Defense Center, double-bunking is required in 25 percent of maximum security prisons and 100 percent of minimum security prisons. The prevalence of these tight spaces, which often lead to violent altercations, show no sign of abating due to contemporary judicial policies such as minimum sentencing for a variety of crimes.
The limiting of visitation rights remains a huge question in both minimum and maximum security prisons, with some experts believing that in-person visits are waning as a practice across all incarceration levels in favor of video calls, which present fewer security risks. Seventy-four percent of U.S. correctional facilities that implement new technology to facilitate digital visits end up either reducing in-person visits, or eliminating them altogether, according to an investigation by The Guardian.
The term "supermax prison" is also often used to denote a facility that offers the most secure level of custody possible. Such facilities are often the target of activists, who suggest that incarceration in these types of prisons violates the U.S. Constitution—specifically the 8th Amendment's proscription against "cruel and unusual" punishments.
What challenges specifically await the Litchfield women when they arrive at their new home is yet to be seen, but it's likely Piper Chapman and her crew will face more extreme conditions than they had seen in the show's earlier iterations. New episodes of "Orange Is the New Black" land on Netflix on July 27, 2018.
[Photo: Screenshot via Netflix]
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