Wearing pink prison uniforms as punishment

Queensland Corrective Services might roll out "bright pink overalls" to deter bikie gangs.

Queensland Corrective Services might roll out "bright pink overalls" to deter bikie gangs. Photo: via Sky News

Question: What’s the best way to punish naughty men who break society’s laws and wind up in jail?

Answer: Dress them in pink and treat them like girls, silly!

That’s right, the Queensland State Government’s Police Minister, Jack Dempsey, has asked Queensland Corrective Services to investigate whether or not prison uniforms for incarcerated bikie gang members can be changed from standard khaki to bright pink overalls. Because the surest way to humiliate a man is to force him to look like a girl.

The controversial '"Tent City Jail" in Phoenix, Arizona is run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who issued ...

The controversial '"Tent City Jail" in Phoenix, Arizona is run by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who issued prisoners striped uniforms and pink undergarments to wear.

Campbell Newman’s Queensland, hey? Homophobic one day, misogynist the next!


Forcing male prisoners to wear pink isn’t an original move on Dempsey’s part. The potential scheme is no doubt modelled on the philosophies of Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose Tent City prison has been drawing praise and criticism in equal measures for the past two decades. Frequently referred to as ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’, Arpaio’s ‘radical’ attempts to reform the inmates of his prison are disturbingly applauded by people fortunate enough to have never found themselves on the wrong side of his fence. 

The sheriff celebrates the anniversary of the facility every year, which is a twisted way to wield power over a disempowered population whose alleged crimes are not only considered low-level but have also yet to be prosecuted. That’s right, the inmates at Tent City are pre-trial, despite the conditions they live in more accurately resembling those one might expect at a maximum security prison.

"Tent City Jail" inmates with pink undergarments.

"Tent City Jail" inmates with pink undergarments.

But by far the most infamous fact known about Tent City is the dress code; Arpaio forces the inmates to wear pink underwear, a move that he boasts has helped get him elected to the position of Sheriff five times.

And even though the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals recently ruled that forcing inmates into pink underwear to undermine their masculinity appeared to be punishment without justification, the move still enjoys tacit support from people who equate feminisation with humiliation.

The question is why it’s considered appropriate at a government level to institute retribution and punishment via such methods. Their intention is to disempower a subset of tthe population by invoking homophobic and misogynist social policies that alienate more than 50 percent of the population in its entirety. What such tactics implicitly suggest is that the worst thing in the world to be is a girl.

Further, they reinforce the idea that, via the act of intimacy with another man, gay men willingly adopt weakness by turning themselves into women (so to that end, we can add transphobia to the mix as well).

Branding men with pink in order to feminise and dehumanise them isn’t even an original act on Arpaio’s part. Under Hitler’s Nazi regime, homosexuality was punishable with up to 10 years in prison. Convicted homosexuals who were considered ‘curable’ (because we all know how well that works) were sent to concentration camps and forced to wear pink triangles* in order to identify them. To concentration camps. The same concentration camps that Sheriff Joe Arpaio proudly references as a model for his Tent City, where the same methods of humiliation are incorporated to further marginalise the men housed there.

Campbell Newman’s government has a track record of appealing to the kinds of conservative mindsets that characterise its own front bench. I’ve no doubt there are people who’ll cheer the idea of retribution via emasculation, not giving a moment’s thought to the efficacy of such a policy or the not-so-subtle misogyny, homophobia and transphobia attached to it. 

But what they should absolutely understand is that this kind of approach has its roots in one of the most horrific and shameful moments of 20th century history, a precedent of punitive justice via humiliation that was set by Hitler of all people. And when the Queensland Government forces you to Godwin yourself in your own article, you know things have gotten really bad.


* Interestingly, it was the use of pink triangles to characterise homosexuals that was largely responsible for the shift of colour coding for boys and girls. Prior to this, pink was considered a manly, passionate colour while blue was associated with girls because it was seen as calm. History! It teaches you all kinds of things! 



  • If you look at the Psychological properties of colours, pink is said to be: A powerful colour, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat emasculating. Maybe there is nothing demonising behind the motives to dress inmates in pink, Maybe its just one tool they are trying to utilise in the rehabilitation of criminals. Would you care if the inmates were from a women's correctional facility?? It's a uniform, lots of uniform colours are selected to some sense of emotion they install, like blue, it is a calm, trusting colour, that's why you'll see a lot of people in a role where trust and remaining calm is important with blue uniforms like surgeons. Red is a stimulating colour, which is why you see it used in a lot of restaurants, sometimes colour choices aren't about poking fun at a certain sex/race/religion, sometimes it really is just about the colour and how it can aid you with your work.

    Date and time
    October 22, 2013, 7:34AM
    • possible. Orange, as used by many prisons already is a colour often used in interior design to increase the appetite, so what does it say about connection to prison/punishment/reform etc? Why has this never been questioned?
      Why do we only question( badly) when something is seen to "feminise?

      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 9:53AM
    • Cam, Ssssshhhhhh, you're not supposed to completely destroy the central argument of an article in the first comment! At least give it some time to brew.

      My first thought: Certain colours have certain psychological impacts. Cam articulated it better than I could. Pink is soothing and probably reduces aggression in prisoners.

      But then, I suppose it's important for our media to focus on the big issues like maybe-sexist-prison-uniforms. After all, it's not like there are women being stoned to death for having consensual sex around the world. Eye on the prize!

      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 10:03AM
    • Its humiliation - Dempsey was on air yesterday being interviewed about the pink prison uniforms and his only justification was that bikies would hate to wear pink. At the time I was driving home with my 5yo daughter in the back after she had just chosen to buy a pair of pink shorts to wear to soccer practice. It was a really sad feeling knowing I was witnessing the drip drip drip of society shaming her for being a girl.

      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 10:30AM
    • What a load of horse dooey, Shane. Red has always been associated with aggression, power, masculinity, war. Popes wore red. Cardinals wore red. Women who wore red were assumed to be prostitutes because it was such a transgressive act. And so pink was considered a masculine colour (before the use of it to identify homosexuals by the Nazis) because it was on the spectrum with red. Blue, on the other hand, was always a feminine colour because it was the colour associated with the Virgin Mary. Even if Dempsey hadn't admitted it was intended to humiliate, (do you really think the Campbell government cares about warm and fuzzies when it comes to the colours in prisons, for eff's sake?) it doesn't take much to figure it out for yourself.

      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 12:49PM
    • You are missing the point. The reason pink is chosen is because its emasculating. Arpacio has boasted many times that the imposition of pink underwear and handcuffs reduces inmates masculinity and makes them easier to handle. He even imposes it on mentally ill prisoners - http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/state/sheriff-joe-arpaio-loses-pink-underwear-appeal

      No doubt Aparcio is Newman's hero - and we can look forward to a tent city on the outskirts of Brisbane very soon.

      Deb DeGood
      Not Queensland, thank god
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 1:40PM
    • I agree with Cam. Pink is used because it is apparently a calming colour and not due to it's perception as a "girly" colour. What I find interesting is that the calming effect of the pink is short-lived and reportedly wears off after only 15-30 minutes. I don't believe this is a feminist issue though

      Brew Darrymore
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 2:37PM
    • I think that they would have chosen any colour they thought the prisoners would hate. For whatever reasons, these men hate pink. Probably because they're misogynist pigs. But, for example, if they were forced to wear a colour of a rival gang, that would be punishment too.

      I personally, would be punished that little bit more if I had to wear orange (because seriously, who looks good in orange?). But maybe, ironically, this is the start of the rebranding of the colour pink.

      Sub Zero C
      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 3:57PM
  • Well, our own government thought it was ok, in it's national anti-speeding campaign, to represent having a small penis as more shameful than endangering the lives of others behind the wheel of a car. That campaign got widespread support.

    Our Government
    Date and time
    October 22, 2013, 8:34AM
    • Look!!! Strawman!!!

      Date and time
      October 22, 2013, 11:24AM

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