When an Alabama prison official told a reporter covering an execution last week that her skirt was too short, she pulled it up to her hips to make it longer. When that wasn’t enough, she borrowed a pair of waders from a photographer.
Then came the problem of his shoes. Journalist, Ivana Hrynkiw Shatara of AL.com, she was told that her heels did not conform with the prison dress code because her toes were showing, and she had to go back to her car to put on a pair of tennis shoes.
“I was very upset at the time, and honestly, I was so humbled and mortified,” Ms Hrynkiw said in an interview on Monday.
Ms Hrynkiw, 28, said she had worn the skirt to cover executions without any problems. But on Thursday, when she arrived at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, to cover the lethal injection death of Joe Nathan James Jr., a prison official told her the skirt was too short.
It was then that Ms Hrynkiw changed into a pair of fishing waders given to her by a photographer for a television station in Birmingham, Alabama. An Alabama Department of Corrections official said the waders were appropriate.
“Since I started covering the criminal justice system, mainly executions, I was always told to dress like you were going to a funeral,” she said. “I was just taken aback because I came in looking very professional and very respectful for an event like this, and having put on that costume, it was very disrespectful.”
Kelly Ann Scott, editor and vice president of content for Alabama Media Group, which oversees AL.com, said in a statement Monday that the scrutiny of Ms. Hrynkiw’s attire was “unacceptable and unequal treatment.”
“It was sexist – and would be humiliating for any female journalist,” Ms Scott said. “I’m proud to work with Ms. Hrynkiw, who despite treatment that would shake many of us, continued to professionally tell the story for our audiences in Alabama.”
Ms Hrynkiw was not the only journalist covering the execution to have her clothes questioned at the jail on Thursday. Kim Chandler, an Associated Press reporter, was also singled out, although it was ruled that her attire complied with the prison’s dress code.
Ms Chandler, who did not immediately respond to an interview request on Monday, said in a series of tweet that, although she has covered many executions over the past two decades, “it was the first time I had to stand in the media room to have the length of my attire checked”.
She said a prison official told her that the warden now enforces the prison’s dress code. “To be clear, I have no problem with a dress code, but please provide notice,” Ms Chandler said.
Ms Hrynkiw said she later received a copy of the dress code, which contains a provision on skirt length but does not address shoes.
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
The dress code issues prompted AL.com and the Associated Press to send formal complaints to Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama.
Associated Press editor Julie Pace said in a letter to Governor Ivey’s office that Ms. Chandler and Ms. Hrynkiw had been ordered to stand in the media room, “in view of their male colleagues and others, so officials could check the length of their outfits.
She continued, “Singling out female journalists for arbitrary clothing inspections is humiliating, discriminatory and simply unacceptable behavior towards professional journalists trying to cover one of the most serious events they are called upon to witness.”
After Mrs Chandler’s dress was found to be within the prison dress code, and after Mrs Hrynkiw put on the thigh-high boots and tennis shoes, they were allowed to witness the execution, and they both reported later stories for their respective outlets. .
Mr James, 50, was executed by lethal injection on Thursday for the shooting death of Faith Hall, 26, in 1994, Ms Chandler reported for The Associated Press. Ms Hall’s daughters said they would prefer he serve his life sentence, but Governor Ivey cleared the execution, Ms Chandler wrote. Mr James had no final words when asked by the manager, and his official time of death was 9.27pm, Ms Hrynkiw reported for AL.com.
Ms Hrynkiw said she was initially reluctant to share her story because she didn’t want to overshadow the news she was covering.
“His story is what was important,” she said. “The inmate’s story, the victim’s family story – that was the point.”
Since sharing her story, Ms. Hrynkiw said she has heard from a number of women in Alabama who have faced similar encounters regarding dress codes in courtrooms and prisons.
“What I find striking is that the biggest problem here is that so many women weren’t surprised by this,” she said. “Although they may have been outraged, they weren’t surprised.”