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Supreme Court Approves Strip Searches In County Jails

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In a 4 to 5 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled against Albert Florence who was arrested due to a computer error and strip searched while jailed by Burlington and Essex Counties in New Jersey. Many fear that this decision grants new powers to strip search inmates when it actually protects jails, most of which have been doing strip searches for years.

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New Decision Sets A Standard Not A Requirement

"It has been the policy of most jails to strip search inmates at some stage of the intake process when officers can inspect the inmate's body for contraband, identifying marks or health issues, and inspect their clothing before allowing them into general population" Justice Anthony Kennedy said "the circumstances of the arrest were of little importance. Instead," Kennedy said, "Florence's entry into the general jail population gave guards the authorization to force him to strip naked." This reasoning comes from most states acceptance that this does not violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure and compliments the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) regulations of open record states.

Not all jails were practicing blanket searches prior to the Supreme Court decision, during which all inmates are required to submit to certain physical and mental health checks or during transition periods though most already maintain more consistant control in security that also deters future attempts by people who want to be arrested to exploit a criteria that is more intermittent but will allow them to smuggle. In the public eye, strip searches are almost iconic as they seem to have always been an understood part of jail and prison folklore, "Don't drop the soap".

man under arrest

Relying On More Human Judgment

"Courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security," Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

Justice Stephen Breyer said strip searches improperly "subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy." Breyer said jailers ought to have a reasonable suspicion someone may be hiding something before conducting a strip search.

inside the human body which can require an external device like an x-ray or ultrasound to detect. Strip searches are nothing new and may include the similar sounding "visual cavity search"; the only part that is uncomfortable is bruised pride.

Comparing Current Policies And Effects Nationally

In Tennessee, the Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, who is the president of the American Correctional Association, told The Tennessean that their jail has no plans to implement blanket strip searches, but he added "jails across the country need the ability to do that.” while Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal agrees saying that strip searches are used in the name of security for the jail, namely finding drugs or weapons, "[It] does not happen a lot,"and "The officers have to have probable cause to tell us they think the person is hiding something."

In Texas, "Lubbock County protocol is already in line with the high court’s decision", said Chief Cody Scott of the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office, "Staff at the Lubbock County Detention Center use a decision tree to assess arrestees before they are put in holding to await a magistrate so that everyone housed in the Lubbock County Detention Center is strip searched before being assigned a cell."

In Illinois, beliefs of some County Officials are strong "It's the way of the world we live in today," says Adams County Chief Deputy Fred Kientzle. "When people come up there, they are coming in there for a reason. It might be minor or it might be major, but you can't discriminate, and safety has to come first." Jailers say inmates have become more and more crafty in recent years attempting to smuggle items into the jail. Tobacco, drugs, shanks, even cell phones have been confiscated in both the Marion County and Adams County jails. "You have to think of it in two ways," Marion County Illinois Prosecutor Tom Redington says. "You have to protect people in jail from other inmates getting a hold of weapons or contraband. Secondly, people who try to smuggle things in are also at risk. If they smuggle tobacco in for their own use, they might get assaulted by other inmates who see they have it."

FLORENCE v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF COUNTY OF BURLINGTON in PDF format - Download Adobe PDF Reader free

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