I’ve become hooked on the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. What a coup for Piper Kerman (author of the book by the same name)! I wish one of my books would get turned into a TV series. But seriously, unless someone you know is in prison, who even thinks about inmates or correctional institutions? The disenfranchised are tidily tucked away from view; we have no idea what goes on in such places, nor do we care. For raising our “corrections consciousness,” I give props to Orange is the New Black.

ONB pulls no punches in shedding light on the day-to-day lives of women in a minimum-security federal facility. Found guilty of mostly nonviolent offenses like drug dealing, theft or credit card fraud, these female inmates are humanized with equal doses of soap-opera intrigue, same-sex hanky-panky, and poignant interpersonal moments. But should we really feel empathy for these fictional characters? Shouldn’t we want the real psychopaths and sociopaths among us to be warehoused somewhere far away so we never have to cross paths with them? Even those guilty of lesser crimes—like fraud or embezzlement—need to be kept from our midst so they do not cause us financial harm. If such miscreants are being treated harshly behind bars, well, that’s part of their punishment, right?

Law-abiding citizens become justifiably offended when we learn that prisoners, especially the “lifers” who have committed murder or other heinous crimes, are given TV, cooking and other recreational privileges. After all, prison isn’t supposed to be a taxpayer-funded, lifetime resort. But that’s only one side of the story. And because prisons’ operations—and in particular, the living conditions behind prison walls—is not typically revealed to the public eye, no other side ever gets told.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, the United States has the largest prison population in the world, ahead of both Russia and South Africa (http://www.businessinsurance.org/pris...).* We also have the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate, behind Seychelles (a 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean that is part of the African Union). Given that the U.S. holds these shameful distinctions, isn’t it time we take a closer look at the law-enforcement policies (notably “three strikes” and the “war on drugs”) that brought us here? These policies have reduced or eliminated judges’ sentencing discretion and lengthened the average prison stay, with the unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence of making the U.S. the world leader in incarcerating its citizens and earning the prison industry a profitable slice of our Capitalist pie.

In season three of ONB, the fictional Litchfield Prison, on the verge of closure, is taken over by a private corporation. This isn't as far-fetched a proposition as you might think. Prisons have indeed become big business—see https://smartasset.com/insights/the-e... http://www.businessinsurance.org/pris.... As these two articles reveal, the trend is clearly toward prison privatization, and two major companies (Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group) have a neat little monopoly on this burgeoning “industry.” The U.S. prison–industrial complex has supported the rapid expansion of our inmate population due not only to the political influence of these private prison companies but also the myriad businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies (e.g., construction companies; surveillance technology vendors; prison food services; medical facilities providers; and corporations that contract for prison labor). It would therefore be naïve to assume that profit plays no role in determining the fate of minor offenders—i.e., whether or not they are sent away to prison, and for how long.

We all know (or should know) that the criminal justice system is far from color blind. We should be doubly offended when our incarceration system is being privatized and profit-driven. When the goal of prisons is not public safety or—heaven forbid—rehabilitation, but rather increasing the number of warm bodies needed to sustain a growth industry, the matter becomes one of human conscience; we cannot and should not turn a blind eye.

I believe that, as a society, we have an obligation to consider the “spiritual correctness” of the public policies we implement. The incarceration of criminals should have as its primary goals public safety and—whenever possible—rehabilitation and reintegration back into society. The desire for retribution and vengeance, while understandable as human emotions, are far less defensible from a spiritual standpoint. But by far the most loathsome policy objective is to make money off crime and punishment. A profit motive should have no place in the business of housing criminal offenders.

Ordinary Americans should feel ashamed and alarmed that our criminal justice system has earned us the honor of world incarceration leader, while at the same time making prison a growth industry. Orange is the New Black invites viewers to give a crap about society’s cast-offs. Someday, that loser behind the plexiglass might be your son, daughter, sister, brother, niece, nephew or friend. It could even be you.

*According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons and county jails at year-end 2011—nearly 1% the adult U.S. resident population, not counting the 4,814,200 adults on probation or on parole or the 70,792 juveniles in juvenile detention. In total, 6,977,700 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2011 – about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. resident population.