The Dallas County Detention Center is being repainted a soft shade of pink in an effort to better manage sometimes volatile detainees. Dallas County Sheriff Mike Rackley said he decided to update the look as part of extensive repairs necessary after inmates set a fire and vandalized the interior in an escape attempt.
"Basically, if they are going to act like children and commit a childish act, then we'll make a childish atmosphere," he said. "And it's a calming thing; teddy bears are soothing. So we made it like a day care, and that's kind of like what it is, a day care for adults who can't control their behavior in public."
A month after the Oct. 8 incident, the county's 30-plus prisoners are in neighboring jails while repairs continue. The new paint job includes stenciled blue teddy bear accents.
"How do you feel tough in a pink atmosphere?" Rackley said of the new color scheme, which was inspired by similar redecorating efforts at jails in Texas and Arizona.
It's a trend that's backed up by science. Researchers have documented the ability of certain colors to evoke emotional and physical responses.
"It's certainly viable," said Mike Carlie, a professor of criminology at Missouri State University. "There have been positive findings that show that certain colors stimulate and excite, and other colors, I guess you would say 'soothe the soul.' "
One shade of pink, called Baker-Miller Pink, has been nicknamed "drunk-tank pink" because of its use to calm violent prisoners.
Rackley said he's willing to try anything that will keep inmates safe and secure in the aging facility, built in 1990 and often near or above its 40-person capacity.
Rackley said damage caused by the fire and ensuing vandalism, plus the cost of housing inmates elsewhere, already has exceeded $41,000, "and we're still receiving bills."
At least six of the jail's 33 prisoners were involved in the escape attempt.
"They got into the shower, because they knew there were no cameras there, and kicked a hole in the ceiling," he said. That done, they stuffed pages of a book in the hole and started a fire, hoping to burn through a plywood barrier and gain access to the air ducts, he said.
The fire melted electrical, telephone and Internet cables in the ceiling, cutting off power in one cell block and disrupting about half the video cameras.
He said eight inmates have been returned to the jail, but they are forced to remain in their cells 23 hours a day because of the construction.
"They haven't said much about the color scheme," Rackley said.