‘Humanity is the New Black’ campaign targets Riverside jail

An advocacy group launched a campaign called "Humanity is the New Black" after the popular Netflix showed filmed there. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
An advocacy group launched a campaign called “Humanity is the New Black” after the popular Netflix showed filmed at the Suffolk County jail in Riverhead. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Conditions at the Riverside jail aren’t what they seem on the hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County two years ago, they’re much worse. 

The advocacy group has launched a publicity campaign called “Humanity is the New Black” to coincide with the Riverside jail’s appearance in the an episode of the popular drama, whose second season was released June 6.

The NYCLU claims inmates at the jail are forced to live in “appalling conditions,” according to a press release issued by the group.

“Suffolk County should take the energy it put into wooing Hollywood into cleaning up the shocking conditions in its jails,” said Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the NYCLU. “Raw sewage bubbles from the floor, toilets explode, rodents and roaches infest the kitchens, black mold covers the walls, and drinking and bathing water runs brown and smells of sewage.”

Suffolk County Sheriff’s Chief Michael Sharkey said he couldn’t comment on specific allegations included in the suit.

“The Suffolk County Correctional Facilities, as well as every correctional facility in New York State, are overseen by the New York State Commission of Corrections and they have set standards that correctional facilities have to meet to house prisoners,” Chief Sharkey said. “And we meet those standards.”

The NYCLU has urged fans of the show to post photos in support of the lawsuit, to share details about it on social media, and to email County Executive Steve Bellone urging him to address the allegations.

The group’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in April 2012 on behalf of a handful of inmates. It claims that conditions at the Riverside and Yaphank jails violated their constitutional rights by forcing “cruel and unusual punishment” upon them.

As a result of their confinement and exposure to conditions at the county jails, the handful of inmates named as plaintiffs in the suit have suffered “intestinal illnesses, skin conditions, respiratory infections, fungal infections, nose bleeds, headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness,” according to the complaint.

“Even corrections officers at the [Suffolk County Correctional Facility] have commented on the deplorable and inhumane conditions at the facilities, describing them as unfit for animals,” the suit alleges.

The group has since claimed that in the two years since the suit was filed, the county has “refused to make even basic fixes” at the jails and is “actively stalling” to slow down the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Mr. Bellone declined comment due to the pending litigation.

Jason Porter, a former inmate who spent two months at the Riverhead jail, said in NYCLU’s press release that he encountered moldy showers and overflowing toilets while incarcerated.

“One night, the toilets in just about every cell exploded,” Mr. Porter said. “The place was flooded with raw sewage. We retreated to the table area, where we sought refuge for 30 hours. I couldn’t explain the smell in a million years. Nobody should ever be forced to live in a place like Riverhead.”

NYCLU’s lawsuit is still pending in court.

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