The Meaning Behind Jail Uniform Color Codes
Published Oct 05, 2020
When someone serves time behind bars, they are required by law to wear that prison’s designated uniform. These come in a variety of designs and colors. Some penitentiaries opt for the more modern blue jeans and solid-colored shirt combination, but most still use the classic one-color jumpsuit. The color people most commonly associate with prisons nowadays is orange. Still, it wasn’t too far back that prisoners had to wear the black-and-white striped jumpsuits old movies regularly associate with jail.
The deeper meaning behind jail uniform colors
Prison uniforms that we see today are the product of the prison system evolution. Before the prison reform movement, the penal corrective techniques were quite harsh and brutal. Instead of rehabilitating and reforming prisoners, they focused more on corporeal and traditional punishments. Prison uniforms were a way to shame and embarrass these men and women.
Now, the color and design of prison uniforms are for security and identification purposes. The color of your uniform typically signifies the custody level you’re in and the penitentiary you’re from. It helps explicitly officers identify if a prisoner is out of place almost immediately. Furthermore, the color symbolizes the criminal law’s rehabilitation goal, eliminating the stigma of incarceration of the old black-and-white striped uniforms.
Different uniform designs
As I mentioned, uniform designs will likely differ from prison to prison. One of these styles is the one-piece jumpsuit. These are short-sleeved jumpsuits that usually come in one solid color. In almost all cases, these uniforms can be for both men and women.
Another standard design is a two-piece uniform. These resemble hospital scrubs more than anything, really. Again, two-piece uniforms feature a short-sleeved top with pants that come with an elastic waistband. These often come in muted colors, such as olive and khaki. But they may also come in brighter colors, like orange, hot pink, blue, and canary yellow.
Common Jail Uniform Color Codes and Their Meanings
Like the uniform design, colors may also differ across prisons. Some prisons have colors assigned specifically for themselves only. One prominent reason for this is inhouse violence among gangs. These prisons have specific colors for gang members, so they know who they should prevent from ever seeing each other. This serves two purposes. It protects the correctional officers from getting caught in the nasty crossfire, and it also protects the prisoners themselves from getting into avoidable violence.
Some of the most common jail uniform color codes are:
- Red: This usually means the prisoner is considered “high-risk”. That’s why it’s usually worn by maximum-security inmates like terrorists, drug lords, and such. But some jails also use red for “high-profile” inmates such as celebrities and other public figures.
- Khaki or yellow: Low-risk. This is typically worn by inmates in GenPop or General Population.
- White: segregation unit or, in specific cases, death row inmates
- Green or blue: low-risk inmates usually charged with a misdemeanor and other nonviolent crimes, or inmates on work detail (e.g., kitchen, cleaning, laundry, mail, or other tasks)
- Orange: unspecific, commonly used for any status in some prisons
- Black/Orange and White stripes: unspecific, commonly used for any status in some prisons
- Pink: used for punishment in some prisons
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.