Aug. 16, 2013 — -- The author of the prison memoir "Orange Is the New Black" is relieved that federal prison officials have halted plans to move 1,000 female inmates from Connecticut to a prison far from their families in Alabama, but questions the "rationale" for wanting to send the women far from their homes in the first place.
Piper Kerman is the author of the book that has become a Netflix hit and she has become a campaigner for prison reform since her release from the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury in 2005.
Kerman wrote a New York Times op-ed earlier this week criticizing the Board of Prisons plans to transfer the female prisoners incarcerated at the Danbury facility to Alabama.
It is important, she told ABCNews.com, that incarcerated women stay close to their homes and families.
"Those connections are lifelines to the outside world, and they remind you that you have a life waiting for you," Kerman said. "They're an incentive to follow rules, think, and plan for re-entry -- and how you're not going to end up back in prison."
The planned move by the BOP was suspended this week after 11 Northeast senators questioned the move.
While grateful for the reprieve, Kerman asked why the BOP officials wanted to move the woman so far away.
"It's possible that no one speaks up for these women … It's hard for me to define the rationale of the BOP. I think they should comment on that. It would be important," Kerman said.
The BOP initially said the move was planned because there was a demand for more minimum-security beds for male inmates, but were suspended after questions by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and 10 other senators from the Northeast.
Kerman knows first-hand how it feels to be incarcerated halfway across the country from your family and life.Before her release, she was shipped from Danbury to another prison in Chicago on a writ to testify in court, and to finish her sentence. She wonders today what would happen to inmates moved across the country from their families by the BOP upon their release.
"I'll never forget the day I was released," she said. "A female prison guard processed me out. She gave me small men's clothes, and a windbreaker. I got $28. And that was it. Of course I was lucky, my fiancé Larry was waiting for me outside that building. But what if he hadn't been?"
Sen. Murphy also approved of the halt to the move.
"This transfer would nearly eliminate federal prison beds for women in the Northeastern United States and dramatically disrupt the lives of these female inmates and the young children they often leave behind," Murphy said.
Since her release from prison in 2005, Kerman has been an advocate for inmate rights, and serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association (WPA), a service and advocacy organization.
The WPA recently launched a program called JusticeHome, which seeks to allow defendants in New York City who have pled guilty to a non-violent crime to serve their sentences in their homes, if deemed by law enforcement not a threat to society.
The program, launched this spring, already has 40 women enrolled, and remaining at home with their families while serving the community.
For Kernan, this is a focus of her advocacy – keeping non-violent felons connected to their children and families, and to the real world.
"It makes such a difference, she said. "The things you are working through when serving a sentence -- a lot of guilt and shame, and a lot of consideration of what put you in, and a loss of confidence in what you can or cannot achieve in this world … Connection to folks that are pulling for you, on your side, your team, is really powerful to reinforce that you are going to be able to move forward in your life," she said.