Starting May 1, service members confined at any of the the Navy’s brigs, detention or pretrial facilities will get a change of fashion, depending on their status in the criminal justice system.

Called the “standardized prisoner uniform,” those awaiting trial will wear a “chocolate brown” version. Those already convicted and serving their sentences will be issued what the Navy is calling a “tan” variation.

Although officially designated a different color and design, at first glance the tan outfit resembled the current Navy khaki service uniform for those in pay grades E-7 and above.

Old soldiers also might notice a certain similarity with the khaki cotton uniform that was discontinued in 1985.

But a closer look shows these prisoners will wear no rank, ribbons or insignia, only a white name tape on the right side of the chest and a single, open pocket over the left. And there’s no equivalent to the darker brown uniforms in the modern military.

The new duds are designed to enhance security and cut costs, according to an April 24 press release from Navy Personnel Command, which oversees detention facilities worldwide.

The uniform change will affect immediately the 357 military prisoners currently confined and those who join them behind bars.

Because of this “non-pay” status that most prisoners are in, the cost of their clothing comes out of the Navy’s pockets.

“Prison populations are largely comprised of prisoners incarcerated for crimes against people, which is reflected in courts-martial judgments with longer sentences and more less-than-honorable discharges from service,” said Jonathan Godwin, the senior corrections program specialist with the Corrections and Programs Office at Navy Personnel Command, in the statement.

“Punishments consist of total forfeiture of all pay and allowance, and it is rare for a prisoner to return to active duty.”

Until now, confined military members wore their working uniforms, which today often are an assortment of different styles and camouflage patterns chosen by the services they joined.

But that often makes it difficult to distinguish between prisoners and guards.

And then there’s the cost. The typical service-specific military utility uniform — a blouse and a pair of trousers — runs $95. Add in a fleece jacket and the price tag jumps another $45.

The new unisex prisoner uniform — shirt, pants, web belt with open-faced buckle, jacket and cap ― likely will cost “about $45,” officials say.

That doesn’t include service-issued undergarments, socks and boots, which most prisoners will continue to wear.

The outfit shift eliminates the mandate for commands to ensure those being confined show up at the brig with four sets of utility uniforms, plus related accessories and garments.

Instead, the new prisoner uniform will be issued to service members when they check in at any of the confinement facilities.

And while behind bars, "they will be held responsible for care and maintenance” of the uniforms and will turn them in when they leave, according to the release.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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