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Prisons Test the Power of Pink

Monday, September 16, 2013

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Pink paint is being used in jails throughout Switzerland as part of a plan designed to curb tempers and soothe prisoners.

The “Cool Down Pink” project includes painting about 30 cells across several Swiss jails and police stations in a bubble-gum-colored hue, according to various reports.

Pink cells
Police zougoise /

Officials in Switzerland are sending aggressive prisoners to pink-painted rooms. The technique has been used in the U.S.

Prison inmates are sent to the pink room to calm down when tempers rage. Those arrested for alleged public intoxication may also be sent to pink holding rooms in some police stations, reports note.

Soothing in 15 Minutes

Why pink? Psychologist Daniela Spath told The Telegraph that the hue has the ability to subdue aggressive behavior.

“Anger levels can reduce in as little as 15 minutes, though we usually confine a convict to a pink cell for two hours,” she said.

Color Research

Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, WA, is said to have been the first to report on the color’s power against anger, anxiety, and antagonistic behavior in the 1970s, according to a report on

“Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can't. The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy. Even the color-blind are tranquilized by pink rooms," the report said, citing The Power of Color by Morton Walker.

The duration of the color’s effect on unruly prisoners has also been studied, the report noted.

JunoArtemis / Wikimedia Commons

Color experts say pink can promote relaxation. Others say it can humiliate.

Prisoners Not Happy

The pink confinement has not pleased Switzerland's prison population.

“Many inmates are not happy with this treatment,” Peter Zimmerman, a Swiss prison reform campaigner, told the The Telegraph.

“They say it is humiliating to be confined to a room painted like a little girl’s bedroom.”

Pink in the U.S.

The reaction is not surprising. Other law-enforcement authorities have used the color specifically to humiliate, and Swiss corrections officials are not the only ones who have enlisted the power of pink.

The color technique has also been used in penitentiaries and “drunk tanks” in states across the U.S., including South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and Washington State.

An Iowa high school has even used the color in opponent locker rooms to put visiting teams "in a certain soft frame of mind." (See “A Color Catch for New HS Stadium.”)

Pink Punishment

The color’s presumably humiliating and punishing effect in prisons has sparked several lawsuits, including a recent one against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Phoenix, AZ.

The Maricopa County Sheriff forces inmates to wear pink underwear as part of their standard uniform.  

"I know they don't like it. Why would I give them a color they like?" Arpaio has told USA Today. "They're in jail."

In the case—originally brought by the estate of a deceased mentally ill inmate—the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that dressing inmates in the color “appeared to be punishment without legal justification and noted that it’s fair to infer that the selection of pink as the underwear color was meant to symbolize the loss of prisoners’ masculinity,” according to a local ABC News report.

The report said that Arpaio had won the case at trial, but the 9th Circuit threw it out and called for a new trial last year.  

Arpaio appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013, but the high court refused to hear his appeal.


Tagged categories: Color; Color + Design; Color selection; Color trends; Design; Prisons; Specialty functions

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