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!