Strip searches aren’t just for scumbags anymore. The United States Supreme Court made it official: for purposes of keeping weapons and drugs out of government-run facilities, peace officers can force everyone they take into custody to strip naked, lift their genitals and spread their buttocks. To make matters even worse, no tipping is allowed.
Before the Supreme Court decided Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders just months ago [March 2012], only convicted felons and/or persons charged with felonies were subject to suspicionless strip searches. Now even the straighter arrows in crime’s quiver – deadbeat dads, misdemeanants, infraction-ers – can’t evade the Bend, Squat and Cough routine of bowing at the waist, spreading one’s cheeks and coughing to expel anything hidden inside. No one escapes becoming a nude gymnast under the new law, proving that equality still thrives in the American justice system.
As the Court readily acknowledged, contraband’s usual means of transport is the ass: girls in front, boys in back. You may call it disgusting and incredible, but inmates call it “tucking” and it happens all the time.
For this reason, the nation’s highest tribunal held that such searches don’t violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches because the Court (in a 5 to 4 decision) believes that strip searches will ferret out the knives, scissors, glass shards, drug/paraphernalia smuggled into prisons and jails that threaten the safety of people that they don’t want to know anything about.
The Court’s reason for permitting these searches might be legitimate if strip searches actually worked to contain the introduction of dangerous contraband into places like this. Of course, the staff makes catches sometimes, like when Ramos, one of the property officers, was doing the outbound searches and yelled:
“Someone call a lieutenant…she’s got a torpedo up her crank!”
The inmate was bringing a pencil and paper to write down the male inmates’ contact information when she was in the courthouse lockup.
And staff caught this guy I read about in Francine’s Prison Legal News who entered a Vermont jail in 2010 – with $24.97, a cell phone and the charger nestled in his anus. I’m glad this was publicized so his friends knew why their calls to him went straight to voicemail when they phoned to tell him to keep the change.
But, for the most part, my surroundings indicate that these searches don’t stop the importation of contraband; another inmate nods out while on the phone because she is high on heroin that was snuck into the prison in a prisoner’s birth canal. Strip searches don’t catch what they are supposed to, maybe by design.
Strip searches – forcing people to get naked in front of strangers – are about humiliation, which, in turn, makes them about control. Not the beneficial, well-oiled machine control, but the soul-squelching, right-stomping control.
Women here at York Correctional so loathe the two strip searches that bookend every trip to court that they accept longer sentences just so they won’t have to travel to court again and be searched in the process. The strip searches drain inmates of the endurance they need to continue the negotiations between their defense attorneys and prosecutors that would lead to more advantageous dispositions of their cases. In this way, strip searches control the justice system, not justice itself.
I was lucky enough to be diagnosed early on in my sentence with an unidentifiable rash that made shaving my legs and underarms impossible. I now sport three-plus years of hair development and I noticed that, as my hair grew longer, the strip searches grew shorter and were sometimes performed minus the strip. My searches became so cursory that I could move more drug weight in and out of this prison than a small Colombian cartel. But I’ve never done that; my lips are sealed.
My situation points out another vulnerability of the blanket strip search rule; a strip search policy’s success depends on consistent performance by searchers. Of course every public profession has a few overly well-intended employees and strip searchers will be no exception. Several of them are determined to find everything and anything like the guard here who once shouted “More pink!” to me during the spread segment. I was shocked; she hadn’t offered to buy me a drink or even suggested I was cute. What kind of girl does she think I am? Does she think I’m like the other women in here?
But usually the practice of inspecting dirty genitals and anuses repulses the guards so much that they are glad to give people some slack during the Bend, Squat and Cough, allowing kilos and killing instruments inside. The Supreme Court’s plans for safety likely won’t come to fruition.
Now I offer this advice to everyone, as all of us are potential suspicionless strip search victims now: follow orders, move quickly but emphatically to show your bareness and barrenness and keep in mind that the guards have always seen worse than you, regardless of whether you missed a waxing appointment or have overzealous bacne that went beyond the border of your belt. Above all else, though, don’t fall in love with your stripper because if you do, you’ll find out they don’t love you. All this strip search stuff is just a meaningless fling.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 21 -27, 2016
Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), wants redemption to be the centerpiece of our criminal justice system. Why couldn’t he just run for president and clean up this mess?
Harper’s ran an article, “Legalize It All,” by Dan Baum that claims John Ehrlichman, a policy advisor to President Nixon who landed in the joint himself, told him 22 years ago that the War on Drugs was the only way to control black people and activists, that racism and First Amendment violations were the drug policy’s only goals. The reason why Baum waited 22 years to drop this bomb while the war played out is unclear. The Simple Justice blog explains why the delay is so problematic here.
After years of complaints about the social isolation of solitary confinement, everyone’s up in arms over the Marshall Project’s report on “double celling” – the practice of putting two inmates placed in restrictive housing in the same cell. Charles Pierce wrote a column for Esquire, “Two Prisoners Shouldn’t Be Forced to Defecate Literally Inches Apart,” and left out the fact that prisoners are required to do that anyway, whether they’re in solitary confinement or not. Hell, I had to sit on the toilet with my pant leg touching my cellmate’s as she threw up in the sink (neither one of us could hold it). This hysteria is just another example of people who don’t know correctional realities getting on the outrage train without the ticket of experience. I was double-celled with people for six years and, although I don’t like the practice, I’m not outraged by it. And P.S. it’s not overcrowding that causes double-celling, it’s a shortage of staff, so complaining about the practice just bolsters the correction officers’ unions.