Texas Jail Is Small, But In The Pink

A pink inmate cleans the pink Mason County Jail, Oct. 4, 2006, in Mason, Texas. AP

Three county inmates in the jail here lay on their bunks, not saying much.

They wore pink jumpsuits and pink slippers, and one was wrapped in pink sheets. They were surrounded by pink bars and pink walls.

They were not comfortable.

Despite the cramped condition of the tiny jail, the inmates said sitting there was better than working outside, where they might be seen by people they know. Using pink uniforms in a pink jail is a small step to deter inmates from ever wanting to spend more time in the Mason County Jail, which might be getting too old to operate, said Sheriff Clint Low.

"The county would have more inmate labor without them," said one inmate, who did not want to be identified. "I'm not going outside in these things. It's a good deterrent because I don't want to wear them anymore."

"You can make that two," another inmate said from a different cell.

"You can probably make it three or four," the inmate added.

That's exactly Low's point.

Low bought the pink jumpsuits soon after taking office in 2005 and painted the jail pink about eight months ago. The jumpsuits are to keep inmates from coming back to jail, and the pink walls are designed to keep tempers and emotions cool in a jail that is tiny by today's standards.

Even if it helps a little, keeps just a few inmates from returning to the Mason County Jail, Low said, it's a success.

Mason County, with about 3,800 residents, is about 100 miles southeast of San Angelo. The jail is in Mason, the county seat.

Low got the idea of pink jumpsuits from a sheriff in Arizona, Joe Arpaio, who bought pink boxers to keep inmates from stealing the underwear and other clothing. In Mason, Low dyed the jumpsuits and slippers pink, and the color later bled to sheets, underwear and other articles during washings.

Low, who was a deputy in Mason before being elected sheriff, estimated the re-offense rate in the county is down 70 percent since he switched to pink jumpsuits for the inmates. He also said there have been no fights between inmates in the jail since it was painted.

"I wanted to stop re-offenders," Low said. "They don't want to wear them. Working inmates get a choice to work outside or sit inside, and some choose to sit inside because they don't want people to see them. They would rather stay upstairs."

The jail, built in 1894, is a historical site, and Low said he doesn't want to do anything to take away from its historical significance. In fact, it might be a better museum than a jail, he said.

So if another sheriff is elected, he or she can simply repaint the walls.

"It's just an easy step that will hopefully make some progress," Low said.

The Mason County Jail is clean and secure, he said. But it's also old, and it's tiny, Low said.

He believes the county needs a new jail, while some county officials have said the cost would simply be more than the rural county can afford.

The Mason County Jail is among the oldest working jails in the state. It has a capacity of five inmates — four males and a female — and, on Friday, was at capacity, with three more Mason inmates staying at the Comanche jail for $35 per inmate per day. Comanche is about 100 miles northeast of Mason.
  • Lloyd Vries

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