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Prison Rules and Modesty

This article, written by Jerry Merten, appeared in a 1996 edition of "It Is Written," a quarterly newsletter written by members of the Church of Christ.


For a number of years, I have been visiting a Christian who is in our Wisconsin prison system. In order to do this, I must follow the "Prison Rules For Visitors," a list of which I have included below. I find this list of rules quite interesting and enlightening for a number of reasons.

Prison Rules For Visitors

All visitors must pass through and clear the metal detector. In order to expedite the entrance process, visitors should avoid wearing clothing with metal attached (i.e., buckles, snaps, metal buttons, etc.). It is also recommended that visitors refrain from wearing excessive jewelry. The metal detector is also sensitive to wire in undergarments. Visitors with pacemakers or other medical implants which will affect the metal detector must make their condition known to the processing staff member.

The following apparel is considered inappropriate and will result in the denial of visits:

1) Transparent clothing;
2) Shorts which are shorter than fingertip length (i.e., visitor standing naturally with arms straight down the side of the body and fingers extended);
3) Skirts or dresses shorter than fingertip length plus three inches (should a reasonable doubt exist, a ruler will be provided to the visitor to enable the visitor to demonstrate compliance);
4) Strapless, tube, and halter tops;
5) Tops which expose the midriff;
6) Spandex or Spandex-like and Lycra or Lycra-like athletic pants, aerobic/exercise tights, or leotards.
7) Underwear worn on the outside;
8) Clothing with revealing holes, or tears above fingertip level (i.e., visitors standing naturally with arms straight down the side of the body and fingers extended);
9) Clothing or accessories with obscene or profane writing, images, or pictures;

Visitors wearing gang or club-related clothing or insignia may be denied entrance into the institution. This includes, but is not limited to, motorcycle jackets bearing club logos and footwear.

These restrictions apply equally to men and women.

First of all, in light of the arguments that some, including Christians, make about the subject of modesty in clothing, I am made to wonder why it is that the prison system finds it necessary to control what the visitors wear? Could it be that they realize, more than some Christians would like to admit, that what one wears does have an effect on others? Could it be that our Wisconsin prison system knows that if they allow visitors to wear this type of clothing in the prison that they will have problems with their inmates and visitors? Could it be that they have learned this from experience? Brethren, obviously, our prison officials are more realistic than some of you are when it comes to modesty in dress.

The Bible does state that whoever looks after a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28). Obviously, these prison rules show that what one wears can arouse indecent desires in the heart of another. Thus, what you wear can cause another to stumble in his heart. Matt. 18:6 and 1 Cor. 10:32-33 show that we are responsible when we cause another to sin.

Second, notice the prison officials' concern with the length of the clothing worn. Some see nothing wrong with short skirts and short shorts, but evidently, the prison officials do realize that such clothing is not modest. They do realize that if they allow such clothing to be worn into the prisons, they would have trouble. Sadly, some Christians cannot see what our prison officials do see. This reminds me of what Jesus said in Luke 16:8, "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light."

Third, note the rules "apply equally to men and women." Perhaps part of the preason for this is our society's concern for equal rights between the sexes, but I doubt that this is the only reason. Could it be that prison officials realize that the problem of immodesty is not only with what women wear, but also what men wear? Women may not be as aroused as men are by what they see, but they are aroused. Brethren, I urge you to think on this. --Jerry Merten