The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
On any given day in the United States, 48,000 youth are incarcerated, and every year about 600,000 people enter incarceration facilities (Prison Policy Initiative). These statistics are sobering, and they’re certainly not something to make light of. Unfortunately, many people this Halloween didn’t understand that dressing up as an inmate is not only distasteful, but ignorant of what the incarceration experience is like.
A few days before Halloween, I was scrolling through TikTok, looking at what other college students were planning to dress up as. After seeing mystical fairies and renditions of Britney Spears, I was shocked to see people in orange jumpsuits. As Halloween got closer, these same orange jumpsuit costumes began to overtake my feed across a myriad of social media platforms. Concerned with people’s cultural incompetence, I expressed my disappointment to my friends who, in response, explained that a multitude of people on their college campuses also dressed up as incarcerated people. Why is this normalized?
Many of the people wearing this costume even adorned the jumpsuits with thigh-high leather boots and fishnets, seemingly in an attempt to turn the mundane orange outfit into something “cute” or “sexy.” Dressing up as an incarcerated person in any regard is unacceptable, but these attempts to turn people’s real, unjust experiences into something fun for a costume is ridiculous.
Incarcerated people are not costumes; they are real people with real struggles who are oppressed by an unjust system. In most states, incarceration facilities house the most mentally ill people than any other facility. Prisons typically do not provide people the mental and physical care they need, and often perpetuate cycles of trauma and violence. Thirty-five percent of men and twenty-four percent of women experience physical victimization within prisons; ten percent of men and twenty-five percent of women experience sexual victimization within prisons. Unsafe living conditions are something that incarcerated people have to endure daily, and this is not something that non-incarcerated people should take lightly. When you dress up as an incarcerated person, you make a conscious choice to ignore the experience associated with these jumpsuits. Making these outfits seem like something fun and attractive to wear is disregarding the hardships and life-altering nature of being incarcerated.
I also saw people downplaying the strained relationship between incarcerated people and law enforcement, turning the costume into a “couples costume” with one person as an inmate and one as a police officer. This is obviously problematic, especially since twenty-one percent of incarcerated men report being assaulted by staff members including police officers. Moreover, over-policing is a contributing factor to mass incarceration, with police presence heightened in areas considered to be “unsafe”. Often, police officers are integral parts of the oppressive incarceration system, and should not be made into a costume considered to be “cute.”
When you dress up as an incarcerated person, you are belittling the experiences that people have to endure while in incarceration facilities and ignoring people’s sobering realities. There are scores of other costumes that people can wear; it’s time to get rid of orange jumpsuit costumes.