Can You Wear Jeans in Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: November 11, 2020

When people ask me about my prison experience, one of the most common questions I get is about clothing. People are always interested in what inmates are allowed to wear. 

When we see prison inmates on TV and in movies, we usually see them in an orange jumpsuit or a khaki two-piece. This is actually quite accurate, as most prison-issued clothing are those two colors. However, there are some facilities who provide gray, green, or navy blue clothing. No matter the color, prison-issued clothing is always a jumpsuit or a two-piece set of “scrubs.”

But inmates don’t have to wear prison-issued uniforms all of the time. The commissary at each prison sells casual clothing items. If an inmate has the money to do so, they can order these items to help them be more comfortable while hanging out in their cell or going to the rec yard.

Each prison has their own rules when it comes to the dress code. This leads us to today’s topic, which inmate Mistie Vance at Chillicothe Correctional Center will answer: Can you wear jeans in prison?

In this blog post, Mistie will discuss the following topics:

  • Wearing jeans is a thing of the past for most inmates
  • Conformity is essential in prison
  • The prison canteen offers clothing for inmates to purchase
  • Inmates can order items from outside vendors
  • The prison issues each inmate certain items
  • Inmates need money from family to purchase clothing

Wearing jeans is a thing of the past for most inmates

I can’t speak for every prison, since I have only served time in two – the one I spent ten years in and the one I was just transferred to a month ago. But unless you’ve been down twenty years or so, you won’t be wearing jeans at the women’s institutions in Missouri.

I have seen two inmates who owned a pair of jeans in the almost eleven years I have been locked up, both of which have been down over thirty years and started doing their time in prisons that no longer exist. 

From the stories I’ve heard them tell, prison was much different back then than it is today, with a lot more benefits offered to offenders. Families were able to bring items to the prison for their loved ones, offenders were allowed to bring a friend to visits with them, and inmates were able to order from almost any outside vendor. A lot has changed since then, and offender access to items not sold in the prison are extremely limited.

Conformity is essential in prison

Prison is a place where conformity is emphasized, and originality is allowed only to a certain extent. The uniforms we wear are all the same, khaki scrub like tops and khaki pants with an elastic waist. Definitely not the fashion statement of the year! 

Uniforms are to be worn at all work sites, medical appointments, canteen, property, the cafeteria, and any other appointments or official areas. Personal clothing can be worn at recreation or on the housing units, and must be ordered from the offender canteen. 

Unfortunately, once the items are ordered, the offender must wait for the item to come in, which can take anywhere from two to four months. We often joke that it’s necessary to buy winter clothes in the summer and vice versa to insure getting them in time to use them.

The prison canteen offers clothing for inmates to purchase

Clothing items that are offered on the offender canteen include:

  • Sweatpants and sweatshirts
  • Fleece pants and jackets
  • Khaki jackets
  • Lounge pants
  • Cotton shorts
  • Tee shirts
  • Thermal tops and bottoms
  • Panties
  • Boxer shorts
  • Ankle socks or long socks
  • Bathrobes

All items are either light or dark gray in color, and much more expensive than what you would pay for the same thing on the street. For example, the sweats you could buy for ten dollars at WalMart are going to cost you twenty here.

Inmates can order items from outside vendors

The only items we are allowed to purchase from a vendor are bras, craft items, and books or CD’s. There are very few approved vendors, and only three calendar months out of each year that we are allowed to place orders. 

A green check is made out by the offender and mailed along with an order form specifying products being purchased to the vendor. Then the offender waits anywhere from two to six weeks for the items to be shipped to the property room here at the prison, where they will be available for pick up after being processed. The only items family and friends are allowed to purchase and have sent in to the offender are books, and they must be shipped directly from the manufacturer.

The prison issues each inmate certain items

Upon entering prison, you will be issued certain items automatically. At the prison where I currently reside, those items include four khaki uniforms, two green tee shirts, three pair of socks and panties, two towels, two washcloths, three blankets, two sheets, a pillowcase and pillow, two bras, an orange stocking hat, a state coat, and a pair of shower shoes and state boots. All other items must be purchased by the offender.

Inmates need money from family to purchase clothing

For offenders who owe money on their books upon entering prison, they won’t be able to buy most of the items listed above. The monthly allowance for offenders owing money is five dollars a month, and that money is normally needed for hygiene items. 

For offenders without a high school diploma or G.E.D. who don’t owe money the allowance given by the state each month is $7.50 and for offenders with a diploma or G.E.D. who don’t owe it is $8.50 per month. Some inmates are able to make $20 or $30 a month at a prison pay job, but most money used for clothing and other canteen items is money sent to the offender by friends and family outside of the prison.

If I had my way, we would be able to wear jeans in prison – and anything else we wanted to! I believe originality is the best expression of who a person truly is, and without it, a part of who we are is lost. Many of us didn’t know who we were upon entering prison. We were a product of our environment, an extension of someone else, or may be forced to conform to an image contrary to who we truly were inside. 

I, for one, was never allowed to make decisions for myself, so I rebelled and ended up making all the wrong ones for all the wrong reasons. We all have to find our own way in our own time, and having the freedom to find who we are in a loving and supportive atmosphere is of the utmost importance. 

I personally believe this is part of the reason the recidivism rate is so high for offenders released from incarceration. They were forced to follow rules instead of learning the reasons why the things that are asked of us are important. There is no freedom of expression without punishment, and people leave prison still not knowing who they are or why making good decisions is so important.

If you have a friend or loved one who is incarcerated, be there for them in a way that makes them feel secure in expressing who they truly are without the fear of rejection or punishment. If you can help with a little money on the books from time to time, it definitely makes life easier. 

When it’s time for them to get out, make sure to hook them up with some stylish clothes, because I assure you, we are all a little sick of wearing khakis.

Do you know of a prison in the United States that allows inmates to wear jeans? Let us know in the comments below.


Essay from Mistie Vance, inmate at Chillicothe Correctional Center
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