For Immediate Release
ACLU Calls On Denver Women’s Correctional Facility to End Degrading Body Cavity Searches
Searches Occur Routinely Despite Lack of Suspicion of Concealed Contraband
DENVER - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado are calling on
officials at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility (DWCF) to
immediately end a new type of degrading body cavity search in which
correctional officers force prisoners to open their labia, and,
according to some reports, even to pull back the skin of their
In a letter sent this week to Ari Zavaras, the
head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, the ACLU says the
searches - which occur even when guards have no particular reason to
suspect concealment of contraband - raise grave concerns under the
Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In its letter,
the ACLU says that while courts have upheld visual inspections of
prisoners, forcing women to hold open their labia for inspection on a
routine basis is gratuitous and constitutes unnecessary and wanton
infliction of pain and humiliation.
"Given that prisoners at DWCF are already
subjected to a strip search policy designed to uncover contraband, this
new policy adds little to the search procedure other than additional
humiliation and suffering," said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the
ACLU National Prison Project. "Prisoners have a constitutional right to
be free from pointless and humiliating searches."
Experts on mental health care in prison have
estimated that as many as 80 percent of women who are in jail or prison
have been the victims of domestic violence and physical abuse prior to
their conviction, a reality that compounds the infliction of pain caused
by the needless body cavity searches. According to the ACLU's letter,
courts have found that the previous sexual abuse suffered by many female
prisoners increases the trauma caused by invasive strip searches and
heightens the constitutional violation. Indeed, the ACLU has received
letters in recent weeks from prisoners at DWCF who complain that being
forced to comply with the new search policy - under the threat of being
doused with pepper spray - exacerbates prior sexual trauma.
The ACLU's letter also charges that body cavity
searches also may have occurred after prisoner visits with their
lawyers. Not only are the searches unwarranted after such visits because
of the low probability that an attorney would ever agree to smuggle
narcotics or weapons into a prison, but they also could deter prisoners
from meeting with their lawyers, compromising legal representation.
The ACLU also asserts in its letter that DWCF's
new policy could jeopardize the safety of communities across the state
of Colorado by undermining the rehabilitation of prisoners and
compromising the Colorado Department of Corrections' stated goal of
"assist[ing] offenders' successful re-entry into society" and
"reduc[ing] the likelihood of future victims." The ACLU's letter charges
that prisoners have refused visits from friends and family in order to
avoid post-visit searches.
"The fact that these searches deter visits can
have a devastating impact on prisoners' families, especially for
prisoners' children, who can only see their mothers during visits," said
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. "Also,
exacerbating mental illnesses through traumatic body cavity searches
decreases the likelihood of re-entry into the community and could well
lead to higher rates of recidivism."
A copy of the ACLU's letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.