November 28, 2005

Fit To Be Tried


I ran across an interesting article recently at the BBC site.  It was part of a magazine feature titled "Who, What, Why?"  The particular question on the table happened to be:  Why do prisoners wear lurid jumpsuits?  While we have our orange suits in America, the article explained that "a lurid green and yellow version" was becoming common in England and Wales.

The article made two assertions about the effect of the suits.  First, they take the prisoner’s individuality away, making it more difficult to express themselves in court.  Second, the suit conveys associations of guilt and conviction.

Although I’m not familiar with the literature, I have some purely intuitive reactions to the article and the image.  When I look at the outfit, one thing I’m reminded of is a clown suit.  Maybe it’s just the prisoner’s expression here, but I wonder if the design is demeaning, eliciting a sense of dehumanization and humiliation.  I also was wondering, if it really is humiliating to wear this outfit, is this such a smart thing over the long run?  (Also, I’m not sure, but I have trouble believing this suit would have the same effect as the strictly orange version.)

The other association I had was contradictory to the one above.  Still, I thought I’d toss it out.

The jumpsuit also reminds me of the warm-up outfit used by professional
sports teams. If this connection has merit, it raises an issue I’ve
been thinking about ever since 9/11. If the intelligence, law
enforcement and behavioral science experts had a full say, would the
Bush Administration still have been able to put as much weight on
individual "evil doers?" Obviously, bin Laden had an international
profile prior to 9/11. Still, it seems that whenever BushCo. encounters
(or stimulates) an antagonist situation, it strips out most political
complexities, preferring to lay the blame at the foot of one person.

In going that route, however, it seems they bestow rock star status on
guys like bin Laden, Hussein, and Mussawi, turning them into celebrity
anti-heros. In the absence of such demonization, would these people
still have put together such formidable teams?

(image: Getty Images.  Published November 17, 2005.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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