Published on The Daily Femme – Friday, June 24, 2011
Contributed by Annamarya
“Rikers Island is trying to turn down the heat by covering up the skanks – and keeping out the shanks…From now on, female visitors who show up spilling out of their tight tops, miniskirts or ripped jeans will be issued a passion-dampening T-shirt that comes in a hideous shade of neon green and in just one size – XXL.”
That above is the misogynist lede opening the NY Daily News’ Tuesday report on the misogynist Rikers Island prison dress code regulation that will force female visitors to cover up with an oversized shirt if officials deem their outfits to be too inappropriate or sexual (according to the Wall Street Journal, men wearing x-rated t-shirts or ripped jeans could be asked to don the shirts too). And why was this policy, which cost the city $5,000 for 800 shirts, put into place? Because, said Correction Department spokesperson Sharman Stein, it’s all about ensuring the inmate’s “safety and well-being”–part of the hope is jail officials will have an easier time catching visitors if and when they reach under the huge shirt to retrieve smuggled drugs or weapons. Because, reports theDaily News, the department wants to stop “sex-starved prisoners” from boning visitors in large public visit areas littered with kids. Because, for some reason, slut-shaming is always the proper solution to harmful situations.
I’m not sure what bothers me more, though, about this regulation, which was put into place in March according to WSJ. On one hand, it frustrates and offends me that the Correction Department is primarily targeting women as a means to an ends. To a lesser degree, this new slut-shaming dress code employs the same victim-blaming mentality that scrutinizes and further victimizes sexual assault survivors for what they wore when attacked. It is saying that inmates are these deprived animals with no control and, instead of working at the root of the problem–that being violent prison culture and the dehumanizing treatment of inmates–officials would rather blame and control women and their body. If “sex-starved” prisoners are indeed engaging in sexual relations with visitors in public spaces, they aren’t doing so because of “sexy” clothes but despite of them. How will covering up scandalous clothing and banning jewelry really, truly prevent that? How will shaming women for their outfits, their choices, really quell the desires of prisoners that are oppressed in the first place? Additionally, by hoping to stop public sex by covering up women, this dress code assumes women aren’t making their own choices, that they are forced to engage in sexual activity rather than taking part in it with their open consent. And, if that is the case–if these women aren’t engaging in consensual sex or visitations–shouldn’t the Correction Department then be more worried about the female visitor’s safety and well-being? Shouldn’t the Correction Department then implement some type of regulation that will prevent inmates from harming visitors? Shouldn’t the Correction Department, then, work to prevent potential attacks by addressing the actions and attitudes of the attacker and not sweep it under the giant neon rug? Shouldn’t we just put an end to victim-blaming?
On the other hand, I’m flabbergasted (but not surprised) that the city wasted $5,000 on t-shirts when, according to the Daily News, the number of correction officers has dropped by nearly 2,000 since 2001, which saw 10,616 officers. Shouldn’t then, as President of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association Norman Seabrook suggests, the city spend its funds wisely and hire new correction officers to oversee inmates? Whether visitors are wearing XXL neon shirts or haz-mat suits doesn’t mean much when you have incapable or overworked and over-stressed correction officers at the helm. After all, as written in the Daily News article, drugs and weapons are still smuggled in even after visitors, which reach 1,770 daily, are searched at least three times before entering the visiting space. Thus, this dress code really just means that anyone smuggling in contraband will have to find a clever way of circumventing the sleuth limitations of the shirt. So wouldn’t a larger authoritative presence be a longer, more permanent and effective solution to safety issues? Is that really such a far-fetched idea?