On April 2, 2012, the US Supreme Court announced an opinion concerning the issue of strip searches in correctional facilities. In a 5-4 decision, the Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling and supported the use of strip searches “to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies”.
Given the complexity of the issue, and the thoroughness of the opinion from the Supreme Court, it is not sufficient as a corrections professional to rely on just media reports or second-hand knowledge before considering operational and policy changes.
A prudent strategy is to gather as much information as possible, listen to responses from professional corrections organizations, and, of course, obtain information from knowledgeable legal advisors to ascertain the on-going implications of this recent Supreme Court ruling.
The first step is to read the entire opinion.
FLORENCE v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF COUNTY OF BURLINGTON ET AL.
No. 10–945. Argued October 12, 2011—Decided April 2, 2012
The concurring opinions clearly note this is not a blanket opinion and the Court leaves “open the possibility of exceptions”. It will be important to continue to track the implications and impact of this opinion on correctional policy, practices, training and operations. At the 31st Annual American Jail Association Conference, April 22-26, 2012 in Reno, Nevada, the National Institute of Corrections is sponsoring a "Legal Issues I & II" workshop on April 25 and 26, with the strip search ruling one of the issues to be addressed. For more information, please go to 31st Annual AJA Training Conference and Expo and 2012 AJA Workshop Overview.
Here are some excerpts, with emphasis added, from the ruling:
Justice Kennedy for the Majority:
“Correctional officials have a legitimate interest, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies. Facility personnel, other inmates, and the new detainee himself or herself may be in danger if these threats are introduced into the jail population.”
“In addressing this type of constitutional claim courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or un-justified response to problems of jail security.”
“Even assuming all the facts in favor of petitioner, the search procedures at the Burlington County Detention Center and the Essex County Correctional Facility struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the needs of the institutions. The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments do not require adoption of the framework of rules petitioner proposes. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is affirmed. It is so ordered.”
Of note, included in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion:
“The term “jail” is used here in a broad sense to include prisons and other detention facilities.”
JUSTICE ALITO, concurring.
“I join the opinion of the Court but emphasize the limits of today’s holding. The Court holds that jail administrators may require all arrestees who are committed to the general population of a jail to undergo visual strip searches not involving physical contact by corrections officers. To perform the searches, officers may direct the arrestees to disrobe, shower, and submit to a visual inspection. As part of the inspection, the arrestees may be required to manipulate their bodies.”
“It is important to note, however, that the Court does not hold that it is always reasonable to conduct a full strip search of an arrestee whose detention has not been reviewed by a judicial officer and who could be held in available facilities apart from the general population.”
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, concurring.
“I join the opinion of the Court. As with JUSTICE ALITO, however, it is important for me that the Court does not foreclose the possibility of an exception to the rule it announces.”
“The Court makes a persuasive case for the general applicability of the rule it announces. The Court is nonetheless wise to leave open the possibility of exceptions…..”
Wed, Apr 11 2012 8:46 AM