While these days pink is a fashionable shirt and tie color, some men would never be caught dead in it. That includes most men in prison.
Yet the South Carolina department of corrections has chosen pink jumpsuits as the mandatory garb for inmates who masturbate publicly or who sexually assault each other or staff. The inmates who commit such conduct are first punished with time in a prison disciplinary unit; after they are released back to general population, they must wear pink for another three months.
The department apparently adopted the pink policy in response to increasing complaints by female staff forced to confront inmates deliberately exposing themselves and ejaculating in front of them. Presumably, a distinctively colored jumpsuit would help female staff and inmates identify who has engaged in sexual misconduct and might do so again.
But why the color pink? The color was not chosen at random. Officials knew full well that inmates would not like it – and suspected the prospect of having to wear pink would have a deterrent effect.
It is not surprising inmates do not like pink jumpsuits. They associate pink with little girls and effeminate men. Wearing the color may lead to ridicule, insults, sexually oriented innuendo and even violence and sexual assaults.
Forcing men to wear pink symbols or clothes has a shameful history: from the pink triangles the Nazi’s forced gay men to wear to the pink underwear Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona requires men in his jail to wear (you don’t like it – don’t break the law).
Putting an end to inmate sexual harassment of staff is a legitimate goal. Unfortunately, Director Ozmint thinks forcing men to wear pink is the only way to curb such conduct -- although he admits the department never made a concerted effort to do so before adopting the pink jumpsuit policy.
Deliberate humiliation should have no place in a modern prison. Well-managed prison systems do not rely on archaic shaming methods to punish inmates for misbehaving and to encourage them to mend their ways. Officials nationwide also recognize that using distinctive clothes regardless of color to identify inmates according to the rules they have broken -- particularly where sexual conduct is involved -- puts the inmate at risk of verbal and even physical attacks.
Just because someone has been sent to prison for breaking the law does not make him or her fair game for whatever treatment prison authorities concoct. Respect for human dignity should govern all aspects of prison life. Treating inmates appropriately also enhances public safety: inmates who are treated with respect have a better chance of learning good values and attitudes to carry with them when they return home.