Inmate sees red over orange

Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014

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Orange overalls are cool in America, thanks to the hit television prison comedy-drama Orange is the New Black, but there's one New Zealand inmate who doesn't want a bar of them.

Brendon Douglas Forrest went to the High Court at Wellington asking a judge to review the practice of making prisoners wear orange overalls when seeing visitors.

The Department of Corrections thinks the overalls stop or reduce the risk of contraband being smuggled to prisoners during a visit. Forrest's claims included one that making prisoners wear the fluorescent orange overalls during visits demeaned prisoners and lacked humanity.

"He says that prisoners' families should not have to see their loved ones in that state, and [it] does not assist in showing the rehabilitation progress that prisoners may have made," Justice Jill Mallon said in her decision.

The Department of Corrections succeeded in having the case struck out on the grounds that it had no legal basis and was frivolous and vexatious.

The judge said orange overalls were not particularly unusual, and others wore them outside prison.

It was hard to see why family and friends would find it more upsetting to see their loved one in orange overalls than it was to see them in prison, under the watch of Corrections officers and cameras, with other prisoners around, she said.

The popularity of orange overalls in the United States, as a result of Orange is the New Black, has prompted one prison there to go back to an old-fashioned black-and-white striped uniform.

Saginaw County Jail, in Michigan, recently announced that it would be changing because the orange outfits had become "cool".

"Some people think it's cool to look like an inmate of the Saginaw County Jail, wearing all-orange jumpsuits out at the mall or in public," county sheriff William Federspiel said. "We have our inmates out sometimes doing work in public, and I don't want anyone to confuse them or have them walk away."

During his court case, Forrest said he could remember having to wear the orange overalls for visits for about the past five years.

According to court decisions about him, he first went to prison in 2001 at the age of 17, for an arson that destroyed a Nelson restaurant. He was freed in August 2003 but, early the next year, he received a short jail term for making threatening phone calls. Two days after his release from that sentence, he tried to set fire to a car with a person sitting in it, leading to a sentence of four years and six months.

While in prison, he threatened to kill several people. His current sentence is due to end in July next year.

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In February last year, he was freed on parole and, soon afterwards, became engaged to a woman he had just met.

By May last year, Forrest's relatives felt unable to have him live with them any more because of threatening messages they received from his fiancee.

He was recalled to prison in late May last year and is still there. He is due to be considered for parole again in March.

When he is released, he may have a small nest-egg. While in prison he had received $1200 compensation, including a $600 court award for being unlawfully strip-searched twice in one day.

The money was advertised as being available to be claimed by his victims through the Victims' Special Claims Tribunal, but no-one did.

- The Dominion Post

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