I want to allow one of the prisons in VR to allow only sarong and undershirts as nightwear. What reasons could one provide?
The same and only reason prisons ever have for placing restrictions on anyone or anything: because they're totalitarian institutes that literally exist to make life miserable for the inmates. Having tried to sleep in a sarong on a couple of occasions I can attest that this certainly would make a lot of people miserable.
According to modern theories, prison sentences (and other punishments by the criminal justice system) serve multiple functions:
- The prisoner is prevented from crimes against the general public while imprisoned. He or she can only offend against other prisoners or prison staff.
- Under coercion, the prisoner is taught lessons for a crime-free life which he or she might have avoided in freedom -- drug therapy, school and vocational training, living a structured life.
- The prisoner is deterred from repeat crimes when he or she experiences the consequences of being caught.
- Members of the public other than the sentenced criminal are deterred from crime when they see the consequences of being caught.
- Victims and members of the general public feel satisfaction at witnessing punishment, and their moral standards are reinforced.
Nations differ in the emphasis on different functions of prison sentences. Some hardly try to rehabilitate the prisoner. Others see this as the key role of the criminal justice system. Some make conditions as harsh as possible to reinforce the deterrence effect, others do so as punishment.
I assume that the clothing is no ordinary nightgown for males in the culture your describe. If that were the case, the prison system might simply give everyone the standard and leave it at that.
- The clothing could be part of a suicide watch protocol. Anti-suicide smocks are not quite sarongs but something close to it.
- It could be deliberate humiliation to enhance the deterrence function.
- It could be deliberate humiliation to enhance the punishment.
In a VR world... you could make them dress up like the little mermaid and it would not matter. VR aesthetics as are just that, and there is no practical purpose to how you skin your inmates other than making them look how you want them to look. They can't conceal knife better because they are wearing loose clothes, they can't be slowed down just because you render them with a ball and chain. Etc. That is unless you add stat modifiers to the attire.
In the real world; however, there are some distinct advantages to this attire:
Ever heard the term "gird your loins"? In the ancient world, where men routinely wore sarong like garments, it was inhibiting to get into a fight or do hard labor while freeballing in their togas; so, before getting-to-work, they would have to tie their toga between their legs so it would not get caught on things or get pulled over their heads. This was both practical for what they were about to do, but also a visual cue to others that you are not just hanging out.
In a prison setting, inmates would quickly learn the advantages of girding up for a fight. But, seeing an inmate with his loins girded would be an immediate cue to the guards and other inmates that things are about to go sideways.
This gives the guards the opportunity to intervene before things get out of hand.
So, going back to the VR question, you could give a sarong the option to be worn either in normal mode or girded mode. In the normal mode, it gives the wairer penalties against certain physical actions, but in the girded mode, the prison guards' AI will make them stick closer to you and have perception bonuses against anything suspicious you may be doing.
Clothes are an important part of self-image. Putting people into standardized uniforms dehumanizes people, suppresses their personality and creates a group mentality with people wearing the same uniform. This is desirable in a prison, which is why most prisons in the world force inmates to wear standardized uniforms.
But why would this particular prison choose shirts and sarongs for their uniform?
Why shouldn't it? All that matters about a uniform is that they all look the same. A secondary concern is functionality, but we are talking about a VR prison, so that aspect is irrelevant. So the uniform design choice is more or less an aesthetical one. Maybe the designer of the VR prison was from a culture where this attire is common? Or maybe the prison is made specifically for people from a culture where this attire is not common? In that case forcing men to wear what looks more like what a woman would wear in their cultural background might be a way to further humiliate the prisoners.
There are several important aspects to clothing a prison would hand out. It's not necessary for prison clothing to be all these things, but most of them is a plus.
- Reasonably durable (no buttons, zippers, or places easy to tear; needs to go through the wash with ease).
- As few different versions as possible (you want to avoid clothing where you must supply 20 different sizes; 2-3 main sizes and a couple of outliers would be ideal).
- Can not be used as a weapon (belts, for example) or to conceal weapons.
- Does not interfere with any prison activity (handcuffs, anklecuffs if used, prison work details).
- Bonus: Should make a person quickly identifiable as a prisoner (this is often done with otherwise ordinary clothing with an unusual color or pattern).
Plain undershirts are excellent contenders. They are comfortable, easy to make in unusual colors and patterns, cheap, light, easy to throw in commercial washing machines, or wash and dry by hand if that's the local culture, and each person can get away with wearing a few different sizes (so you just need small, medium, and large to fit most of the population).
Sarongs also fit the criteria. You only have to have 2-3 different sizes to fit most men, they don't need buttons or zippers to stay on, and so forth.
If a sarong is part of the local clothing culture, then it would fit in, even if many youth would be turned off by it. If the local culture is one that would never use a sarong, it could have a humiliation factor (it's a skirt!) or it could be an excellent way to keep nighttime escapes down, as prisoners would be easily identified as such.