Hundreds of new state laws enacted by the legislature earlier this year took effect last week, including one measure that aims to keep Washington prison inmates from outfitting guards in uncomfortably revealing uniforms.
The new law is the result of HB 2346, sponsored by Rep. Maureen Walsh, a Republican from Walla Walla. The bill, approved almost unanimously by the state house and senate, proposed a minor but significant change to an RCW that requires state agencies to utilize prison labor whenever possible for goods and services.
Until now, one of the inmates’ jobs included sewing the very uniforms worn by their guards. The gaping flaw in that system, according to Walsh and several correctional officers who testified throughout the legislative process, is that the convicts don’t make the best tailors. And, in some instances, the inmates were supposedly putting one over on their overseers by crafting uniforms that, when donned by female guards, resembled something better suited for a sorority Halloween party.
“There was some hanky panky going on with the uniform making,” Walsh explains. “The seams were a little tight on the seat of the pants on the men, and there was some gape around the bra area on the women’s blouses…One lady told me she had a thick gap and you could look right into her shirt.”
Walsh, whose district includes the maximum security state penitentiary in Walla Walla, acknowledges that it sounds like an extraordinarily elaborate prank, but she heard from guards at several facilities that inmates were intentionally spacing buttons far apart, and otherwise tampering with the guards’ clothing.