About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

April 2, 2012

Spread those cheeks

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses. This isn't a big surprise. The Court has always granted a lot of discretion to jails and prisons to run their own affairs, with regard to safety, broadly defined:
Maintaining safety and order at detention centers requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to problems. A regulation impinging on an inmate’s constitutional rights must be upheld “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.”
[C]orrectional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities, and that “in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters.”
The four more liberal justices dissented.

Leaving aside constitutional issues, I've always pointed out that you should welcome a strip search in jail not because of you might be hiding or carrying, but because of everybody else you'll be with. There are a lot of criminals in jail. If I'm in jail, I will sleep better knowing that everybody else has been thoroughly searched for weapons.

Of course such logic does ignore the fact that most contraband gets into jail through visitors and correctional officers.


Anonymous said...

A better solution would be to afford each his own cell until conviction or bail.

They might take the other guy's weapons, but they don't take their knuckles or their dirty semen away. Potential weapons are the least of the arrestee's worries.

If we want to be fair to the arrestee (and especially the innocent arrestee who never should have been arrested in the first place, like Plaintiff Florence), then what you really want to do is give each man his own cell.

It is not fair to put innocent men in a situation where they can be raped.

I am sure any arrestee will tell you:


But, the problem is that Mr. Florence got both the strip search and the shared cell. It can't be fair to make him do both.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever arrest anybody for an unpaid fine even after they showed you proof of payment?

When you read about the circumstances of the arrest in the Florence case did it shock you what the police officers did to the guy, or did you think it was business as usual and fair play and all that?

PCM said...

Not that I can remember but I would have. It is business as usual and fair play.

If there's a warrant for your arrest, you're being arrested. There is nothing you can prove or do to me, the police officer, to change that. Period.

As to some piece of paper showing payment (assuming he had it on him, which is very unlikely), it wouldn't do anything. Even if I could know the payment was related to the warrant, which I would not, I'd still have to arrest you. There's a warrant for your arrest. It's between you and court. I follow orders of the court. I have to.

But there is a legit question as to why he was kept in jail for so long. That doesn't sound right. Even if he had not paid his fine.

Anonymous said...

well, okay.

But now it is not really between the arrestee and the court anymore. Now it is between me and the court and the man at the jail who orders me to play with my anus, while I stand there doing so humiliated.

I guess that is what is different as between now and when u did it.

PCM said...


But it has nothing to do with the police. We're off the hook, for once.

And when I was a cop, everybody I arrested got strip-searched. Not by me, mind you. But that's the way it works at Central Booking in Charm City.

Anonymous said...

Only if everyone you arrested went into gen pop.

Even the horrible new SCOTUS seems to acknowledge that the jailers can't do suspicionless strip searches of arrestees who are not going into gen pop, as has pretty much always been the law and practice since '79 (at least, longer I think).

PCM said...

The vast majority of arrestees go into what could be called "general pop" (ie: not segregated). But keep in mind we're not talking prison here. We're talking jail and a holding pen for 10 or 20 people.

Jay Livingston said...

I'm horribly ignorant, but what kind of weaponry can a strip search find that would go undetected by a patdown or scan? Also, since everyone is strip searched, how many of those arrested for traffic violations and unpaid fines were found to be hiding weapons in this way? My guess is zero, what's yours?

PCM said...

Amazingly the figure is not zero. Weapons were regularly (though not frequently) found at CBIF after two previous searches, one by the officer and one by the wagon man.

I have no idea how.