Orange Jumpsuits Are Too 'Cool" For Jail

The power of pop culture is resulting in changes to one aspect of the American prison system. No, it is not the plague that is for-profit prisons or the slave labor many inmates are forced to perform. Pop culture is spurring a change in jail uniforms.

Sheriff William Federspiel at Saginaw County Jail in Saginaw, Michigan is transitioning his inmates from orange jumpsuits to black and white stripped jumpsuits because, as he puts it, "The jail's all-orange jumpsuits increasingly are viewed as 'cool.'"

"It's because as you see shows on television, like 'Orange Is The New Black,' some people think it's cool to look like an inmate of the Saginaw County Jail with wearing all-orange jumpsuits out at the mall or in public," Federspiel says, referring to the Netflix drama. "It's a concern because we do have our inmates out sometimes doing work in the public, and I don't want anyone to confuse them or have them walk away.

(Let's choose to ignore the fact in that show, Piper only wears an orange uniform for a brief period of time before transitioning to the beige jumpsuits that all the prisoners wear.)

It is a legitimate concern. But I do have to wonder how much a show about a woman's prison is affecting the way men outside of prison are dressing. I'm certainly in no position to argue against this, so I'll just ask: Have orange prison uniforms really become a fashion statement?

Of course there are certain aspects of prison culture that bleed into the real world—for example, sagging pants. But I do wonder if the people wearing orange jumpsuits out in public have ever actually been to prison. It strikes me as something an former inmate would try to avoid for a number of reasons.

Sheriff Federspiel's claims that his goal is make it easier to spot inmates when they're outside of the jail and to reduce the supposed "cool factor" of being in jail. The inmates, however, are not happy with the change.

"It's not to be crass," he says. "We're not trying to embarrass or shame them. It tells me something, though, when the inmates think that it's bad: It's probably good. We don't want them getting too comfortable, feeling like they're productive members of society, when actually when they're incarcerated, they're not."

Oof. Emphasis mine. Dismissing the fact that some of the inmates are unhappy with their treatment within the prison walls is troubling. I'm not saying that objecting to new uniforms is the biggest issue facing these inmates, but a rule shouldn't be implicated because they don't like it. Seems like another slippery slope in an already broken system.

Image via Lionsgate.