Walla Walla Correctional Officer John T. Christy does not carry a gun.
Like all correctional officers, he has a set of steel handcuffs, several plastic zip-tie cuffs and a radio. But officers need another important tool to gain respect from inmates, Christy said.
A good uniform.
After several state correctional officers brought complaints about their uniforms to the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the committee unanimously supported a bill Friday to allow the Department of Corrections to buy uniforms from private companies instead of ones made by prisoners.
Correctional Industries employs more than 100 inmates and eight staff for the production of uniforms at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell.
In the 10 years that Christy has been an officer, he always has bought his own uniforms, refusing to participate in the Correctional Industries uniform leasing program. Christy said his uniform helps him to gain the respect of inmates.
He contends the Correctional Industries uniforms do not.
The color of the material used fades quickly from blue to purple, he said. Buttons pop off. Seams come loose. The flap that normally covers the zipper on a pair of pants never does.
He argues that every officer that wears the inmate-made uniforms has had problems.
One officer Christy knows wears a size 32 waist, but the officer had to try on nine pairs before he found one that fit like a true 32, Christy said.
Another officer found a pair of pants that fits his waist, but the legs were too tight, Christy said.
Female officers have it much worse, Christy said, because the pants do not have a feminine waist-to-hip ratio.
Officers may find themselves in a situation where they need to wrestle an inmate, but current uniforms reduce their mobility because of their poor fit, he said. Officers even have a hard time crouching and kneeling, he said. They do not wear them for training.
Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe and ranking minority member on the committee, said correctional officers deserve better.
"These are professionals, and they deserve to be treated like professionals -- given the very best, because they give their best for us," he said.
The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.