Women bring class action lawsuit for practice of male guards' viewing and videotaping strip searches of female inmates

On September 15, 2011, the firm filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two former inmates at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center (“Chicopee Jail”), alleging that since the Jail opened in 2007, male correctional officers have been routinely videotaping female inmates’ naked bodies while the women are strip searched. The lawsuit alleges that this practice is degrading and unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs Debra Baggett and April Marlborough filed suit on behalf of the hundreds of women affected by the practice against Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, Jr. and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy. They designed and implemented the Jail’s strip search policy and they permitted males to routinely view and videotape naked female inmates. When women are moved to the Segregation Unit for mental health or disciplinary reasons, they are strip searched. With four or more officers present, the inmate must: take off all her clothes, lift her breasts and, if large, her stomach, turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands and cough, and stand up and face the wall. If the woman is menstruating, she must remove her tampon or pad and hand it to a guard. An officer with a video camera stands a few feet away and records the entire strip search. This officer is almost always male.

Courts in Massachusetts and around the country have stated that it is a violation of the Constitution for male guards to routinely view female inmates during a strip search in non-emergency situations. This practice also violates Massachusetts regulations, American Correctional Association standards, and international standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Having male guards stand at close range and videotape naked female inmates violates the law as well as basic human dignity. Many women at the Chicopee Jail have mental health problems and many have been victims of sexual assault or abuse. This makes the experience of being videotaped naked by a male officer all the more degrading and humiliating.

The civil lawsuit seeks money damages for violations of the women’s constitutional rights. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court in Springfield. It is called Debra Baggett v. Michael J. Ashe, 11-cv-30223-MAP.

Related Articles:

Males’ taping of female strip-searches spurs lawsuit

Ex-inmates sue over strip search taping

Chicopee women’s jail sued by ex-inmates for videotaping

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