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Woman Whose Year in Prison Formed Basis for 'Orange is the New Black' Focused on Criminal Justice Reform

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The hit prison dramedy "Orange is the New Black" has 12 Emmy nominations, and has already won three technical awards this year, but the show, based on Piper Kerman's year in federal prison, is just part of the story. NY1's Stephanie Simon sat down with the real "Piper and Larry" and filed part one of a special two-part report.

Whether she's consulting for the Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black," based on her best-selling memoir, scheduling her next speaking engagement or volunteering at the Women's Prison Association, Piper Kerman has one mission: criminal justice reform.

"I am always focused on a single goal of seeing far fewer Americans in prison or jail because I think we will be a better society and a safer society, actually," Kerman says.

The success of her book and the show "Orange is the New Black" gives Kerman a platform to advocate for change. The memoir recounts her year in a federal prison after pleading guilty to carrying drug money overseas.

While spending time in jail is no laughing matter, the show is comedic, and the main character, Piper Chapman, is an adaptation. Still, Kerman says the show humanizes the inmates and brings them out of the shadows.

"Generally, people behind bars are hidden away form the public view, and I think that's very intentional," Kerman says. "It's not simply a question of public safety, but it's also a question of hiding what's happening in the criminal justice system."

While NY1 chatted with Piper and her husband, writer Larry Smith, at the WPA in the East Village, she showed NY1 another book she hopes fans will be interested in.

"Doyle, Murphy, O'Neil. When you look through these log books from the 1840s and 1860s, what you find is that we used to incarcerate Irish women in New York City. Now, of course, we overwhelmingly incarcerate African-American and Latino women, and it's just a reminder that there are certain populations that the criminal justice system focuses on," Kerman says. "And I think we've really seen that, especially in New York City, with many of the controversies involved in policing, and also, who gets arrested and who gets incarcerated,"

With the highest incarceration in the world, Kerman says orange is the new black for far too many Americans.

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