Class Certified in Our Lawsuit Challenging Male Prison Guards’ Videotaping Strip Searches of Female Inmates

On May 23, 2013, a federal judge ruled that our case alleging that male correctional officers at the women’s prison in Chicopee routinely videotaped female inmates’ naked bodies while the women were being strip searched could proceed as a class action. The lawsuit alleges that since the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) opened in 2007, the jail has had a policy of permitting male officers to videotape strip searches of female prisoners in non-emergency situations. Our lawsuit alleges that this policy is degrading and unconstitutional.

The Court’s ruling, by United States District Judge Michael A. Ponsor, certifies a class of approximately 178 women who have been videotaped by a male officer. Any woman who was held at the WCC and videotaped by a male officer during a strip search since September 15, 2008, is a member of the class.

The lawsuit was filed in September 2011 by former WCC inmate Debra Baggett against Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, Jr. and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy, who runs the WCC. ” From September 15, 2008 to May 20, 2010, males held the camera for 71 % of the videotaped strip searches. After the Sheriff received criticism of the policy Defendants reduced the frequency of males on camera.  After this case was filed Defendants virtually eliminated the practice. Men very rarely videotape strip searches any more: from September 16, 2011, to December 31, 2012 men held the camera only 2% of the time.

The parties will continue to engage in discovery in the case until the end of the year. The Court will rule on the constitutionality of the policy in early 2014.

Check out these stories about the case:

22 News: Class-action suit filed over strip searches at women's jail

MassLive: Class action moves forward on behalf of female inmates strip-searched while videotaped by male officers

MA Lawyers Weekly: Class certified in strip search suit

The Bill Newman Show 5-24-13 on WHMP (The segment on the lawsuit begins at 18:00.)

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