Bill focuses on prison officer uniform source

State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, wants to see an end to inmates producing the uniforms.

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OLYMPIA -- A local lawmaker has proposed to let prison officers wear privately-made uniforms instead of those made by inmates.

State Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, along with 10 other Republicans and 19 Democrats, is sponsoring a bill to allow private companies to sell uniforms to correctional officers.

Washington law currently requires the Department of Corrections to buy uniforms from Correctional Industries, a program that employs 1,600 offenders at 16 state prison facilities.

But Walsh said at least three officers have personally complained to her about the quality of the buttons, seams and material of the uniforms.

Several officers expect to testify when the bill comes before the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. A spokeswoman with Walsh's office said a hearing has been requested, but not scheduled yet.

State corrections officials, however, said they don't see a problem with uniforms made by prison labor.

"In my view, they do a really good job," said Jeffrey A. Uttecht, superintendent of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, where inmates make some of the uniforms.

Lyle Morse, director of Correctional Industries, said the system allows for on-demand production. When an officer needs a uniform, inmates can make it right away. If a pair of pants rip, officers can send it to an on-site tailor or have it replaced.

Four years ago, fading colors were an issue, he said, because officers might get issued a 7-year-old pair of pants and a new shirt. Today, the department issues light blue shirts and dark blue pants to avoid that problem, he said.

Most of the complaints Morse receives are about the American flag patch on uniforms. The patch was moved to a different position on the uniform and officers say the stars on the flag are too far away from their heart.

The Union-Bulletin contributed to this report.

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