Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange Color Clothes In The US?

Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange Color Clothes In The US? In this article, we have discussed everything you need to know about why prisoners used to wear black-and-white strip uniforms till the 19th century.

Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange Color Clothes In The US?
Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange Color Clothes In The US?

When someone is imprisoned, they are frequently obliged to wear the prison's official uniform. We usually see inmates wearing orange jumpsuits in movies and TV shows. However, jail uniforms in the US come in a variety of colors depending on the facility and county the prisoner resides in.

There is no official jail uniform color in the United States. But most facilities use the color of the inmate's jail uniform as a code to identify the inmate's position and security risk, among other things. And the orange clothes are used to make escape difficult for prisoners.

An Overview Of Jail Uniform

Erstwhile, prisoners used to wear black-and-white strip uniforms till the 19th century. The early 20th century ushered in an era when prisons switched from black-and-white strip uniforms to modest color uniforms. New York State first abandoned the stripped uniform in 1904, switching to gray jackets and caps.

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Meanwhile, North Carolina replaced the stripes with a custody-level color system in 1958. That was because the grey uniform represented high-security prisoners, the brown represented medium-security, and the green represented low-security prisoners.

In the 1970s, prisons started to switch to orange uniforms. However, it was mainly for prisoners in special detention situations or transit. For example, when prisoners are transported in California, they must be in an orange or red uniform.

What Do The Colors Represent In Jail?

Ever since the prison system's evolution, many prisons have adopted different colored uniforms for their prisoners. Before Prison Reform Movement, prison uniforms were an indication of shame and embarrassment toward prisoners. Traditional and corporeal punishments were used instead of rehabilitation.

Now, the uniforms are only used for security and identification purposes. Additionally, every color represents the custody level and the county of the prisoner. It helps in identifying prisoners if any one of them is out of place.

Some prisons have also reserved specific colors and uniforms for gang members. This helps in preventing in-house violence among gang members. It also prevents correctional officers from getting caught in the crossfire.
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The red uniform is for the “High-risk” prisoners and is often used for the maximum security prisoners like terrorists, drug lords, serial killers, and other prolific criminals. Moreover, prisons also use red uniforms for high-profile prisoners such as celebrities and public figures.


Khaki and Yellow prison uniforms are worn by inmates with low-security profiles. They are mostly designated for the general population with low to medium security risks.


White prison uniforms are typically used by segregated inmates mostly. They are also worn by prisoners on death row or awaiting execution.


Green and blue jail uniforms are designated for low-risk inmates who are only charged with non-violent crimes and prisoners. Also, the ones who are assigned to work details, e.g., kitchen, cleaning, laundry, mail, or other tasks.


Pink uniforms are worn by troublesome inmates in order to punish them. Some prisons in the United States still follow the old concepts of punishments and humiliation in order to break down the masculinity of the inmates.

Black/Orange and White Strips

Black and white strips and orange uniforms are not reserved for anyone and are standard prison uniform colors. They can be worn by anyone and have no specific designation.

Types Of Prison Uniforms

Every prison has a different type of uniform for its inmates. Just like color, different designs are used, and they differ from prison to prison.

One-piece Jumpsuits

One-piece jumpsuits are short-sleeved jumpsuits and often come in one solid color. These uniforms are designated for both men and women.

Two-piece Uniforms

Two-piece uniforms are mostly identical to hospital scrubs. They are short-sleeved tops with pants and elastic waistbands. They mostly come in olive and khaki colors. However, you may also have witnessed them in orange, hot pink, blue, and canary yellow.

PS: Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange Color Clothes In The US

Prisons choose to designate their prison uniforms distinctively everywhere. Back in the 19th century, black-and-white strip uniforms were in vogue, but prisons soon abandoned them until the early 20th century. And since then, every color has represented a different purpose.

Although there isn’t any official prison uniform in the United States, inmates are usually seen wearing orange prison uniforms. As the orange uniform doesn’t specifically indicate any potential risk, it can be worn by anyone regardless of the designation. Thus, it helps identify the prisoners and ensures maximum security.

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