Believe it or not, Maricopa County inmates did not always wear black and white striped uniforms and pink underwear!
Until 1976, each jail facility had small washers and dryers to wash inmates' clothing. In 1976, a central laundry was built at Durango Jail for sorting, washing, drying, folding and filling new orders. MCSO inmates were issued blue jeans and t-shirts as their uniform.
In 1978, the inmate uniforms were changed to a style similar to hospital scrubs. The original uniform pants were blue and the shirts came in a variety of colors. Blue shirts were issued to the non-working or unsentenced inmates. Juveniles wore yellow shirts. Orange, green and white shirts were issued to working inmates according to their job assignment. The colors made it easier to recognize the inmates and their work status.
In 1982, a laundry facility was built at the new Towers Jail. The machines consisted of multiple industrial-sized washers and dryers. Even with the new equipment, laundry operations were labor intensive and time-consuming. Each machine had to be loaded and unloaded manually using inmate labor. With the exception of one small machine used to fold the towels, everything was hand folded by working inmates.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio implemented the current inmate uniform of black and white stripes for every inmate, as well as our world-famous pink boxer shorts. The striped uniforms make it much easier to identify inmates for security purposes. The boxer shorts were dyed pink to prevent inmates from stealing the white shorts. Now that the boxers are pink, it is easy to determine if an inmate is stealing underwear at the time of his release. With the theft of jail underwear down, county taxpayers saved over $70,000 the first year the pink underwear were issued.
In 2003, a new laundry facility opened with a state-of-the-art computer-controlled laundry system. Sorting is done in bins that automatically load into bags and move to an overhead rail. The bags are sent to one of four 450-pound washers that have direct injection detergents, ensuring a precise degree of hygienic control. Once the wash cycle is completed, a shuttle moves into place and the laundry is transported to one of the four 400-pound dryers. Dry laundry is either mechanically folded or hand folded by inmates. A team of detention officers and civilian staff oversees up to 45 working inmates each shift, and another team of officers distributes laundry to inmates at the jail facilities.
Under Sheriff Arpaio’s direction, using the "economy of scale," the Inmate Laundry handles the laundry needs of Juvenile Probation’s Juvenile Detention Centers. This represents a cost savings to the citizens of Maricopa County.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Inmate Laundry processes over 4.3 million pounds of laundry per year to meet the demand of providing bedding, clothing and linens to Maricopa County’s jails and juvenile detention centers.