By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Skimpily dressed visitors at Rikers Island, New York City's main jail complex, are allowed to see inmates only if they agree to cover up with an oversized, baggy, green t-shirt as part of an updated dress code intended to maintain a "family friendly" environment.
The city's Department of Corrections has purchased some 750 t-shirts in a distinctive, easy-to-track shade of bright green, and size XXL, large enough to be shapeless on all but the heaviest frames.
"We are trying to keep this a G-rated experience," Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "If a visitor is dressed provocatively it could potentially spark a chain of events among inmates."
Prison officials hope to reduce the possibility of inmates making comments about other inmates' visitors' appearance -- be they derogatory or a little too appreciative -- that could lead to flared tempers and even violence.
The rules also deal with the opposite concern: too much clothing, which might be used to conceal contraband.
The visitor dress code forbids clothes that expose the chest, stomach or back. Hemlines must be no more than three inches above the knee. Spandex leggings are frowned upon, as are swimsuits. A visitor's clothes should not be transparent. Hat or head coverings may be worn only if a visitor's religion demands it.
Previously, visitors who fell short of the code would simply be denied their visit. Now they will be offered the option of shrouding themselves in one of the t-shirts and thereby avoiding the frustration of a wasted journey to the prison complex, which sits on an island off the shore of the Bronx, the city's northernmost borough.
"It's a compromise," Stein said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)