Prisoners in Pink

​Although the color pink is usually associated with love and romance, sometimes the color is employed in other ways such as being used in prisons to calm the inmates, or when sports teams paint the visiting team’s locker room pink in an effort to make the players passive and sap their energies. The color pink’s calming psychological effect has been well-documented in various research studies, however a few researchers have also found that while the calming effect is the strongest during the initial exposure to the color, over time exposure to excessive amounts of pink can sometimes have the opposite effect and make people more agitated.

The first documented experiment with pink jail cells took place back in the 70’s when a researcher painted the holding cells for drunken sailors pink at the U.S. Naval Correctional Center in Seattle, Washington. Prior to the pink walls, the facility averaged one assault on staff per day. After the walls were painted pink, the assaults dramatically dropped to just two per year.

Other detention facilities around the country have also had good results with the color pink. When they painted the buses pink in East St. Louis, Illinois, incidents of vandalism and assault were significantly reduced. Inmates residing in all-pink cells at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla showed less aggression almost immediately. The color pink was thought to be responsible for a 68% reduction in repeat offenders when a sheriff in Mason County, Texas put all of his inmates in pink jumpsuits, pink shoes, pink underwear and pink socks. He also painted his cells pink and made the inmates use pink sheets and pink towels too. Perhaps the most infamous correctional use of pink is that of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, Arizona who first successfully employed pink clothing for his inmates to halt an outside black market for jail apparel. As Sheriff Joe said, “Why would I give them a color they like, they're in jail?"

The current nationwide effort by prison and jail officials to find even more creative correctional ways to use the power of pink to tame criminals might face a legal challenge if a South Carolina inmate prevails in his lawsuit against that state's penal system. South Carolina inmate Sherone Nealous claims that forcing prisoners to wear pink clothing for sexual misconduct is discriminatory and makes them more likely to be assaulted by other inmates. The state’s Department of Corrections remains unconvinced however and plans to continue to use the color pink wherever it shows good results. A legal memorandum stated the department’s opinion on the matter that said the pink jumpsuits do not convey any sexual suggestions whatsoever. The South Carolina Department of Corrections maintains that the primary reasons that the color pink was chosen were its calming effects and the fact that the system's prisoners simply don't like wearing pink. As long as those two factors remain true, the color pink will probably continue to be employed in hospitals and correctional facilities for a long time to come.