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When visiting prison, don't forget your underwear

New Hampshire Sunday News

May 04. 2013 7:45PM

If you plan to visit a New Hampshire state prison inmate, you better wear undergarments from now on.

You must also avoid muscle and short-sleeved shirts, low-cut and see-through clothing, hooded garments, nurses scrubs, jackets, sweat pants, ripped outfits and farmer jeans, among a long list of fashion no-nos included in the Department of Corrections' new dress code for inmate visitors.

"It's an effort to cut down on the amount of contraband," said Jeffrey Lyons, corrections spokesman. "The majority of it is passed through the visiting areas."

The new dress code applies to lawyers, too, with a couple of exceptions that now allow them to wear suit jackets or blazers.

"Attorneys are authorized to wear suit coats, sports coats, blazers or 'twin sets' as part of their professional attire," the code states. "All other attire must comply with the approved dress code."

The department also frowns on showing affection during visits in its separate rules of conduct, but the more long-standing rule doesn't say whether it, too, applies to lawyers.

Hugging, kissing and embracing is strictly limited to "15 seconds or less."

"No bodily contact, except for handholding, shall be permitted... Handholding must be visible and at table top level."

Violating the kissing policy could ultimately lead to the visitor being banned and/or criminal charges.

Concord attorney Jim Moir said the kissing limit hasn't been a problem for attorneys, but the old dress code was known to cause some embarrassment for legal teams because of the jacket prohibition.

"It was an emergency in the middle of trial and I needed to see a witness with an investigator," Moir remembered.

The investigator was told she would have to remove her jacket to go inside the men's prison in Concord, he said.

"The investigator, a woman, turned quite red and whispered to me that she can't. She's wearing a sheer blouse underneath her jacket and no bra," Moir said. "The guard was adamant she couldn't go in with the jacket."

Moir went up the chain of command until the warden finally agreed to let her wear the jacket.

"We got special permission," Moir said. "Crisis averted."

That was several years ago, but the problem persisted, he said.

"I heard recently of a female lawyer having a similar problem," Moir said, uncertain how that matter was resolved before the new code took effect April 1.

The department has a right to tell visitors and lawyers what to wear for prison visits, he said.

"It all comes down to security," Moir said, scoffing at the notion, however, that lawyers might try to sneak contraband to their clients.

Lyons said the department also tries to limit sexual gratification.

"We wanted to discourage contraband and inappropriate touching," Lyons said.

The code applies to all visitors to the state's two men's prisons in Concord and Berlin and the women's prison in Goffstown,

It's not just targeting women visitors, Lyons said, pointing to the muscle shirt restriction. The code also prohibits clothing that portrays gang affiliation, sexual content, or alcohol or drugs.

Except for maximum security inmates who see visitors only through a glass partition, most visits take place in large rooms at tables for four people scrutinized by cameras and corrections officers.

"We want everyone to dress appropriately," Lyons said, which is pretty much what the old dress code said.

Old code: "Visitors should dress appropriately when visiting so as not to distract from the family atmosphere in the visiting room; clothing similar in appearance to inmate clothing is prohibited. No one wearing provocative or revealing clothing will be allowed access to the visiting room. Good judgment and consistency of enforcement are the rule. Clothing that promotes sex, drugs, alcohol or violence will not be allowed."

Maine has a dress code similar to New Hampshire's former code. Massachusetts has one similar to New Hampshire's new code.

Massachusetts' rules also specifically allow visitors to wear toupees, wigs, extensions and weaves, but said they must be searched.

The new New Hampshire policy is also intended to give corrections officers concrete examples of what is not allowed so they can interpret and apply it consistently, Lyons said.

The visiting area in the men's prison in Concord has 60 tables that seat four people each.

There have been a few shocking examples of extreme cuddling in years past, and those are what the department really wants to avoid, Lyons said.

Inmates can receive visitors twice a week, Lyons said.

So far in 2013, four civilians have been indicted for bringing contraband into the prison, Lyons said. Of the 19 such indictments in 2012, eight were civilians, Lyons said. Of the 23 in 2011, nine were civilians.

When asked how corrections officers will determine who is and who is not wearing underwear, Lyons said: "If they expose something they are not supposed to expose, we may take action.

"We're not going to be looking into people's pants or up dresses."

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