Women Are Suing Rikers Over Forced Cavity Searches

Photo: David Howells/Corbis/Getty Images.
While it's common practice for prison visitors to receive a pat down search before seeing their loved ones, it seems that Rikers Island and other New York prisons are taking things too far. In a report on Boing Boing, 27 women are accusing guards of "illegal, violent, humiliating strip and cavity searches, sometimes holding them down while forcibly penetrating them with their fingers."

And lest you think that these invasive procedures are rare, lawyers representing the women claim that the searches are part of an unspoken policy and guards are actually trained to violate the DOC's codes of conduct.

The strip searches go against the New York Corrections Department's directive on visitor procedure, which reads: “The search is conducted by patting the outer clothing over the entire length of the visitor’s body and examining the seams and pockets of the visitor’s clothing. The visitor may be required to remove his/her outer garments, coat, hat shoes and no other items.”

The searches, which are described in alarming detail on Boing Boing, sometimes keep women from visiting at all, which can keep children from seeing their fathers and loved ones in jail. The Intercept even describes an incident that resulted in a woman being charged with "obstructing government administration and harassment" after being struggling during an inappropriate search. She'd been visiting Rikers every week and had never been subject to anything more than a "pat frisk." She's was banned from visiting the prison for six months and is fighting her charges.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Intercept found that since 2010, New York’s 311 line recorded 83 instances regarding corrections officers subjecting prison visitors to strip or cavity searches. In the same time period, there were an additional 84 reports of improper searches.

The most recent case follows several high-profile settlements made by the NY Corrections Department. The New York Times reports that in 2001, there was a class action lawsuit settled for $50 million filed on behalf of people who were strip-searched while waiting for arraignment. In 2010, another $33 million settlement was reached with more than 100,000 low-level detainees who were strip-searched after being charged.
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