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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 13:09 GMT
Why do prisoners wear lurid jumpsuits?
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Babar Ahmad
Babar Ahmad attending an extradition hearing on Wednesday

These day prisoners are often seen turning up for court in brightly-coloured jumpsuits. Why?

Orange jumpsuits are an instantly recognisable image of prisoners held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But a lurid green and yellow version is now becoming a familiar sight at courts in England and Wales.

Babar Ahmad, who is wanted in the US on terror charges, was pictured wearing one such suit on Wednesday when he attended court for an extradition hearing.

Known as "escape suits", the Home Office says they are brightly coloured so if a prisoner does escape he or she can be easily spotted.

"It is all about making them stand out from the crowd," says a Home Office spokesman.

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The suits may be removed before the defendant appears in the court, but this is up to the contractor in charge of transporting the suspect, says the Home Office.

Some psychologists say the use of escape suits is more complex.

"The suits de-individualise the prisoner," says Dr Martin Skinner, psychology lecturer at Warwick University.

"People express themselves through their clothes and putting them in these jumpsuits takes their individuality away and they may find it harder to express themselves in court.

"The suits also have associations of guilt and conviction. A member of the public would probably look at the prisoner and automatically think they were guilty."

Convicted murderer Michael Stone
Michael Stone was taken to his appeal in a jumpsuit
The suits could also make the prisoner feel under dressed in the courtroom and uncomfortable, he argues.

Earlier this year Home Office minister Hazel Blears extended the idea by calling for young offenders to wear orange uniforms while carrying out community service punishments.

She floated the idea as a way of ensuring justice was seen to be being done in the battle against the "culture of disrespect". It was attacked by civil liberties groups as labelling the youngsters.

"Such uniforms act as a label," says The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.

"Labelling young offenders on the road to rehabilitation serves no purpose."

Rights group Liberty says the uniforms degrade people.

In jail rules on uniform are set by each individual prison. But prisoners can earn the right to wear their own clothes.




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