In Orange Is the new Black, the prison is bought by a private company - MCC (later known as PolyCon).

There are numerous instances depicted whereby this privately-owned company makes decisions over the prisoners' freedom. For example, MCC employees decide to keep an inmate in prolonged segregation - where the decision is seemingly solely in the hands of the company management.

In another instance, the company decides to accept a new batch of prisoners - and in order to make room for them, ranks the top 25 existing prisoners for early release.

Intuitively this seems wrong. Surely a decision on early release/parole is a legal decision, taken by the parole board. Not at the whim of a profit-making company in order to fit in with their executives' plans.

How realistic is this, in American law? Is this purely artistic liberty taken by the scriptwriters; or could it be possible in reality?

  • 'If you are incarcerated in state or federal prison, you may be able to secure an early release through your jurisdiction's credit-earning programs, the parole process, or through special circumstances.' wikiHow. AFAIK, private prisons operate under the same guidelines that state and federal prisons do although there have been questions asked about the amount of oversight they are subject to.
    – user18935
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


Private companies can run prisons, as in their day-to-day operations, but like all companies they are required to operate under law. Saying they can release prisoners is like saying Microsoft can determine how much to take out of a person's paycheck for state taxes. They must follow guidelines and protocol, and only the US Parole Commission can dictate how and when a prisoner is released.

Now, the prison can certainly suggest or recommend people for early release, and my guess is that the warden may have tinkered with the files prior to making the suggestions for parole.

Regarding any type of prolonged segregation, prisons do not need special approval from any legal counsel. Inmates are placed in SHU (Special Housing Units, pronounced "Shoe" on most prison shows/movies) when they are deemed a danger to themselves or other inmates. There are laws that govern their usage, but ultimately it's up to the warden to make the decision.

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