On Monday, the Supreme Court in a split 5-4 decision in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, upheld the decision that allows strip-searches to be conducted to incoming detainees regardless of the severity of the crime and whether or not there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a prisoner may be in possession of contraband items.
What this means for the general public now is that arrests resulting from violating minor infractions — such as participating in “peaceful” protests or unpaid alimony — could result in being asked to undergo a strip-search.
Two incidents involving civilians show how pervasive this problem can become. Albert Florence, a finance director for a car dealership was arrested for having unpaid tickets, which in actuality were already paid. Because of an administrative failure to update the database, and not having proof that this fine was paid, Florence was asked to undergo the invasive strip-search twice.
Similarly, Sister Bernie Galvin in 2003 was arrested for participating in an anti-war demonstration and was only freed after she underwent a strip-search. Both incidents demonstrate the large and sweeping effect that this case could mean for the general public.
University of Chicago Law professor Bernard Harcourt is alarmed at the conservative courts’ trend to curtail our civil liberties. This case sets a dangerous precedent of “logic that it can turn a democracy into a police state pretty easily.”
To illustrate the rather poor effectiveness that strip-searches have made on the security front, a study was conducted at an Orange County, NY, correctional facility between 1999-2003. It found that in only one instance out of 23,000 that a contraband object was found through visual inspection of a strip-search.
This brings into question, the unnecessary resources and manpower dedicated to this initiative. The fact that 13 million people are incarcerated every year with proportional misrepresentation of Latinos and blacks complicates the logistics of conducting strip-searches. What’s even more horrifying is that this particular method is banned in ten states and prohibited under international human right treaties as well as against our federal policies.
The slippery slope to avoid is under the current system, there is no minimum requirement that county officials need to satisfy for the visual inspection under which the strip search is to take place. I propose three solutions aimed to counteract against biased-based policing:
1. Mandatory training and sensitivity awareness for administrative officials.
2. Compile a log of instances that strip-searches were conducted and what led them to conclude that a strip search was necessary to the security of the correctional facility. Particularly, this is useful as evidence for civil action lawsuits due to racial profiling allegations.
3. Agency oversight. There needs to be some type of protection afforded to detainees.