A federal court ruled that it was legal for guards at a prison to Illinois to conduct a strip search on female inmates, during which the women said they were told to remove their tampons and pads and expose their genitals, for the sake of a “training exercise” for new cadets.
The decision was handed by down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in a 2-1 ruling. The ruling was the result of an eight-year-long legal battle brought against the Lincoln Correctional Center over a controversial 2011 strip search.
During the incident, 200 women were told to leave their cells, only to be taken to a beauty salon that connected to a bathroom in the prison, court documents state. Documents also state that the “the beauty shop had mirrored walls, and the bathroom entry was open to the gym, the searches were visible to the people in the gym, including male and female cadets, correctional officers, and civilians.”
“One by one, they were told to raise their breasts, bend over, spread their buttocks to expose their vaginal and anal cavities, and cough. Menstruating inmates were forced to extract tampons from inside their bodies,” court documents alleged. “The female correctional officers and cadets conducting the searches made derogatory comments and gestures about the women’s bodies and odors, telling the women that they were 'dirty bitches,' 'f---ing disgusting,' 'deserve to be in here,' and 'smell like death.'"
“Male correctional officers watched the women from the gym,” documents added.
However, the circuit court majority, comprised of two Reagan-appointed judges, Frank H. Easterbrook and Daniel A. Marion, ruled that the women’s Fourth Amendment rights to privacy had not been violated by the search because it was conducted through visual means.
However, District Judge John Z. Lee, who was appointed by former President Obama, argued in his dissenting opinion that the “facts of this case illustrate the ungainliness of the majority’s new rule.”
“Construing the record in Appellants’ favor, as we must on summary judgment, approximately 200 female inmates were rounded up early one morning by a tactical team in riot gear,” Lee wrote. “Tightly handcuffed by guards who screamed obscenities at them, the women were taken to the gym, where they remained, handcuffed and standing, until the guards searched them. The women were not told what was happening or why. This mass strip search of female inmates was conducted solely for training purposes, but the training was not strictly necessary, as most cadets graduated without it.”
“Surely a ‘training’ justification need not be treated with the same level of deference as a search conducted due to concerns over smuggled weapons or other contraband?” he went on to say.
“It is rationales like this — that fall somewhere between legitimate security concerns and unjustified harassment — that suggest the continuing need for the Fourth Amendment even in prisons,” he added.