Warning: spoilers from Episode 4 ahead! Most of Season 5 of Orange is the New Black follows a riot at Litchfield prison that unfolds slowly over the course of the entire season. It was the unplanned result of months of mistreatment, sparked by Poussey's death and the reveal that sadistic guard Humphrey had been stupid enough to sneak a gun into the prison. Daya shot Humphrey and things quickly devolved from there; the inmates took several guards prisoner, subjected them to some horrors in return, and finally came up with a list of demands. But is the Orange is the New Black riot based on a real event?
It may not be based on a specific event, but there have been many, many prison riots throughout American history — and elsewhere. Perhaps the most famous is the Attica Prison Riot, which gave rise to the rallying cry "Attica!" that makes an appearance on Orange is the New Black and first appeared in the film Dog Day Afternoon. But while it might be the most well-known, there are plenty of other prison riots that could have provided inspiration to the show and the Litchfield riot. Like the riot at Litchfield, many real life riots lasted several days, saw guards being taken hostage, had inmates clamoring for better conditions, and also resulted in casualties.
Attica Prison Riot
The riot at Attica occurred in 1971 and could certainly be the model for the riot at Litchfield because it was similarly motivated by a desire for better living conditions. The riot lasted several days during which the inmates tried to negotiate their demands, which were not met (and which included amnesty, something the women on Orange is the New Black also ask for). The prison was eventually taken back by force. In total, 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed.
Oklahoma State Penitentiary Riots
Riots broke out at this prison throughout the 1970s and 1980s and were also the result of the inmates wanting better treatment. One riot in 1973 lasted for three days and by the end of it, three inmates had died, 21 people (inmates and guards) were injured, and 12 buildings burned. Later on in 1985 another riot broke out during which five employees were taken hostage, two of whom were permanently disabled by injuries they sustained. There are definite similarities to the fictional Litchfield riot, which lasted for three days and leaves CO Humphrey with permanent damage after his stroke.
Indiana Reformatory Riot
The riot that occurred in 1985 at the Indiana Reformatory (now known as the Pendleton Correctional Facility) lasted for 15 hours, but ended without casualties. The inmates claimed the riot was caused by the abuse the guards were subjecting them to, which was one of the causes of the riot at Litchfield, too.
Strangeways Prison Riot
The Strangeways Prison Riot, which occurred in Manchester in 1990, lasted for 25 days — the longest in British history. Much of the protest took place on the roof of the prison and once again the horrific conditions at Strangeways were to blame for the inmate unrest. It sparked a series of similar riots at other prisons and did actually result in some reform.
The inspiration could have come from numerous sources, but there is precedent for what happened at Litchfield in Season 5 of Orange is the New Black. If anything, it proves how common these occurrences are and how horrible conditions at prisons can push inmates to the breaking point.