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Strip Searches - Embarrassing AND Constitutional


Recently the United States Supreme Court interpreted the 4 th Amendment of the constitution as allowing suspicionless strip searches for all individuals entering a jail -- including minor offenders. As we've discussed before, the 4 th Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Thus, the Supreme Court decided that a strip search, for any reason, is reasonable upon entering general jail population.

Since 1979 in Bell v. Wolfish, the admissibility and guidelines for strip searches have been ever growing. This judicial decision in Florence v. County of Burlington to expand what constitutes a reasonable search is beneficial to correctional facility staff. The problem though lies with whether we believe the Supreme Court properly decided the pros of the controversial search outweigh the cons.

The focus of allowing strip searches of individuals before entering general population is that it helps maintain a safer environment within the jail. When there is a large group of individuals, all serving time for a crime, tensions run high, and safety is of vital importance to staff and prisoners alike. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Kennedy wrote that "maintaining safety and order at detention centers requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to problems." He then referenced past Supreme Court decisions regarding officers' discretion to discover and deter smuggling of weapons and drugs, general bans on contact visits to stop smuggling, and recognizing that deterring possession of contraband depends partly on unpredictable searches. The safety of a correctional facility is an ongoing concern, and it is apparent through this decision that drastic measures are being accepted to ensure a safer environment.

Opposers to this 5-4 decision argue that the need for this particular search is far outweighed by the invasion of personal rights. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer focuses on his opinion that a strip search of an individual arrested for a minor offense – such as traffic – is unreasonable without reasonable suspicion. Although those confined in jail have only limited rights, the 4 th Amendment is a constitutional right they still retain. And, a strip search involving a stranger peer at the most private parts of an individual's body is a serious invasion of privacy. Further, many correctional facilities already apply the reasonable suspicion standard before conducting strip searches on individuals entering general jail population. And, the Federal Bureau of Prisons forbids suspicionless strip searches for minor offenders.

In conclusion, the Court's decision came down to whether the need to perform a strip search without suspicion overcompensates for the invasion of an individual's personal rights. The Court continues to give deference to correctional officials in order to determine ways to keep the jail safe. Inmates commit more than 10,000 assaults on correctional staff every year – not including the attacks among themselves. When it comes to keeping people safe, it now does not matter what charge brought you to the facility. What matters is that you are a prisoner, and it is up to the correctional officers to keep and maintain a safe environment – regardless of your personal privacy.

When you think about it, an innocent person charged with murder may not be as dangerous and a murder brought in on a traffic offense. Safety in our jails is paramount. So as if jail wasn't embarrassing enough, a strip search is more than okay – it’s constitutional.