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Heyl: Warden combats crimes of fashion in Allegheny County

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

Fashion has become the focus at the Allegheny County jail.

Until recently, officials at the lockup understandably concentrated primarily on inmate apparel. They typically opted for red and orange jumpsuits that, while not exactly chic, made accused lawbreakers easy to identify if they attempted to prematurely re-enter society before trial.

Warden Orlando Harper apparently has grown unsatisfied with merely mandating how inmates are attired. He has declared himself the fashion arbiter for defense attorneys and anyone else whose job requires a presence in the pokey.

When it comes to what people wear at the jail, Harper is the unquestioned judge, jury and potential executioner. That's according to his sternly worded July 22 memo posted on a jail entrance window.

“It is the policy of the Allegheny County Bureau of Corrections to ensure the professional appearance of all personnel entering the building,” the memo states.

“Anyone entering the facility to conduct professional business is required to wear attire that is in compliance with this directive.”

To prove his seriousness, Harper added: “Those in non-compliance with this policy will be required to leave (the jail) at (their) own expense to change into proper attire and return to duty.”

Reciting the list of verboten clothes would require first taking an extremely deep breath.

The banned attire includes form-fitting or clinging spandex or Lycra outfits, latex leggings and body stockings; sheer or see-though clothing; midriff tops that expose the torso between the abdomen and chest; muscle shirts or fishnet woven tops; sleeveless shirts; off-the-shoulder blouses or tops; dresses or tops with spaghetti straps; backless and strapless dresses; T-shirts with printed logos; skirts shorter than 2 inches above the knee; pants or skirts that expose the backside; open-toed shoes and flip-flops; shorts, skorts or cutoffs; scarves; and finally, denim.

Also, don't even think about going commando if you have an appointment at the jail. The price of admission includes underwear being utilized.

Calls to Harper's office to determine why he suddenly is treating his cell blocks as though they are PNC boardrooms were referred to Amie Downs, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald's spokeswoman.

Downs said the clothing policy has existed since 2011. Harper, who became warden in 2012, only began enforcing it a few weeks ago.

Asked whether Fitzgerald agreed with the dress code, Downs said the executive doesn't get involved in decisions at that level.

“The warden has the experience and background to determine what is needed at the jail,” she said.

I'm not questioning Harper's experience and background, just his priorities. If jail security concentrates on nabbing visitors who dare walk into the lobby wearing arbitrarily banned scarves, might other visitors find it easier to smuggle in actual contraband such as weapons, drugs or alcohol?

The jail has guards.

Why does it suddenly need fashion police?

Eric Heyl is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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