View Full Version : Law Enforcement Defends use of Strip Searches

07-31-2005, 06:07 PM
Law enforcement defends use of strip searches 7/31/2005 1:03:22 AM
Daily Journal


Daily Journal

TUPELO - People who work in jails and prisons tend to face some of the most violent members of society.

Their pay is low, the hours uncertain and there's an element of danger.

"People who work in the jail face a lot of pressure," Lee County Sheriff Jim H. Johnson told supervisors recently.

Many of those locked up in county jails like the Tupelo/Lee County Adult Detention facility seem like they wouldn't be violent. They found their way in accused of selling drugs, driving under the influence, embezzlement, forgery or thievery. Still others are accused of murder and assault or armed robbery - the more violent crimes.

Yet, the element of danger hovers over each arrest, every time an individual is booked into the jail. In 1998 a Lee County detention officer died after a presumably low-risk detainee accused of shoplifting killed him. Court records show security police, Tupelo police officers and Lee County jail officers searched the detainee prior to booking.

After that, detention officers received an oral command telling them to use their discretion in a strip search. Currently, 80 former detainees have a complaint pending in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, saying strip searches performed from July 27, 2000, through Oct. 28, 2003, have violated their rights.

Expert disagrees

An expert on jail procedures, David Lee Salmon of Spring, Texas, takes issue with the assertion. To Salmon, the issue centers on safety of detention officers, visitors to the jail and other prisoners.

Salmon has filed an affidavit in the lawsuit on behalf of the defendants. He asserts that detention officers have valid reasons for conducting strip searches of some detainees "to furthering the safety and security of the Lee County Adult Jail, and were consistent with commonly applied tactics used by jail professionals to deal with threats uniquely dangerous in the jail environment."

Salmon ran a poll of the lawsuit's 80 detainees. Through his research he discovered the strip searches involved either a digital body cavity search or a visual body cavity search. The results of those 80 searches: nine knives; 31 lighters and matches; one chain and one screw.

Seventeen of those individuals stayed in jail a fair amount of time and lived with the general population. Of those 17, strip searches recovered nine knives, fire materials and "other contraband."

Millions in America

The numbers reach beyond Lee County. Records show that every day 2.2 million Americans are in a jail or prison. Over the course of a year, 13.6 million people in the U.S. spend some time as a prisoner or detainee.

The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, is holding a series of public hearings to examine conditions in jails and prisons nationwide. Already the commission has heard the cries of parents whose children in prisons were murdered because of smuggled weapons.

Pearl Beale of Maryland testified recently before the commission about her son, a nonviolent detainee in Washington, D.C. Her son, Divon, died after suffering stab wounds in a weapons-free, maximum-security cell block.

"Not one correctional officer saw it happen," she said. "And it was only after weeks of investigation that some of the facts came together."