Cost-cutting Prisons Say It's Back to Uniforms


The economic crisis has prompted just about every government agency to cut costs both big and small. There's so much going on that we obviously don't know the half of it, and the process is just beginning as Gov. Christine Gregoire presents her stark budget to the Legislature. State Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail outlined some of the changes his agency will implement in a Jan. 6th letter to family and friends of offenders. The DOC plans to close one prison, Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, and may, if Gregoire's proposals are successful, scale back its supervision of people released from prison. It's also taking a smaller step, but one that will be felt widely inside the state's prisons. "In order to save the utility costs associated with unit laundries, we plan to eliminate personal clothing for inmates," Veil writes.

DOC Deputy Director of Prisons Dan Pacholke explains that prisoners are issued uniforms, which they are required to wear as they do their prison jobs or attend any of the various educational and social service programs available to them. But, currently, they can wear their own clothes the rest of the time, whether they're in their cells or seeing family in visiting rooms. They buy their outfits from several DOC vendors who advertise their wares in a catalogue distributed to inmates. Jeans, dress shirts and sneakers are among the items that have been available.

No longer. Pacholke says that the DOC will soon tell inmates they can't buy new clothes and then, in perhaps six months time, will tell them that they can't wear the clothes they already own either. He says the savings from not having to launder the clothes will amount to one million dollars a year as the agency's water, sewer and electricity bills go down. As an added benefit, he says, it's saving energy. "We're pretty sustainable," he says of the DOC.

"I don't expect it to be an overwhelmingly popular change," he nevertheless concedes, noting that inmates say having their own clothes allows them to feel like individuals. Still, he says, it's a change that saves money without affecting public safety.

Update: Turns out prisoners don't wear orange jumpsuits like above, but khaki pants and work shits. Undoubtedly a less degrading look, but Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright thinks its regimentation all the same and asks "how does that prepare prisoners to reenter society?"

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