WDOC Greenlights New Uniform Policy for Wyoming Inmates

Alternative uniform prepares prisoners for positive interaction and return to society, director says

Inmates in Wyoming can wear the new yellow polo shirt and denim jeans uniform during photos, family visits, parole board hearings and job interviews to help assimilate them to society upon their release. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming Department of Corrections)

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Inmates throughout Wyoming’s correctional facilities will now have the option to wear an alternative uniform for special occasions, such as prison visits, photos, parole hearings and job interviews. The new yellow polo shirts and denim jeans, which are being sewn in-house, are currently being distributed to the five correctional facilities across the state.

The policy change is intended to create a normalized environment for inmates when visiting with their families and children or preparing to be released back into the community, according to Dan Shannon, director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC).

Shannon said he had been contemplating the uniform change for a while, prior to receiving a proposal from inmate Christopher Hicks in April 2022, asking Shannon to consider switching the current bright orange jumpsuit uniform to attire “less humiliating and dehumanizing” for inmates.

After Shannon received the request, he told Hicks he’d review the proposal and discuss security risks and other considerations with the wardens.

In the end, Shannon believed it was the right time for change.

“To me, it really provided an opportunity,” he said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth. “When you have individuals in stripes and things of that nature, which is really iconic for those incarcerated, it doesn’t serve them and really doesn’t serve any purpose…it’s demoralizing.”

Shannon said it’s in the best of everyone to provide inmates with as normal as an environment as possible to help prepare them for their return to society.

“I realize they’ve [the inmates] caused the path of destruction and have caused a lot of hurt with victims, but 95% of them in the next five years are going to be released and living next to us,” Shannon said. “I want to provide every opportunity possible to those who are confined, especially when they’re interacting with society and are going to return to society.”

The uniforms will be made in the three prison garment shops at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington and the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk.

The cost will be negligible, Shannon said, as the materials are purchased in bulk and created by inmates.

Psychological implications

In his proposal to Shannon, Hicks wrote that the WDOC uniforms are “counterproductive to the rehabilitation process” because they are “dehumanizing and strips [sic] inmates of their dignity, self-esteem and have negative psychological effects on both the inmates and family members” who are visiting.

Hicks, 36, has been incarcerated for 18 years and is serving a life sentence at the Wyoming State Penitentiary for an accessory to first-degree murder charge dating back to 2006 in Gillette. He also serves as a certified peer specialist in the Youthful Offender Transition Program in Rawlins. Hicks was unavailable for comment this week as the facility was on lockdown due to staff shortages.

In particular, Hicks noted in his proposal that inmates’ children are especially impacted when they see their parents in the bright orange uniforms.

Hicks also stated the uniforms denote that inmates are “less than human” to guards and staff, which not only psychologically affects the incarcerated, but is also counterproductive to the stated goal of rehabilitation.

Experts like David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, support Hicks’ views that prison uniforms strip away an inmate’s identity, which make it harder for that person to assimilate into society once released. In a 2017 article in the magazine Index on Censorship, Fathi argued that uniforms are degrading and that prisons should replicate the society to which inmates will be returned.

Shannon agrees that clothing has a psychological impact on inmates’ bearing. But he also believes it has larger implications on how they will readjust to life outside bars.

“I have a responsibility to our citizens and to everyone to make sure I send back the best person that we possibly can,” he said.

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