Outcomes of Baggett v. Ashe, our case opposing male guards’ videotaping of female prisoners’ strip searches at the Chicopee Jail

Our case against the practice at the women’s jail in Chicopee permitting male guards to videotape female prisoners during strip searches, Baggett v. Ashe, was recently cited in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. The brief, submitted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Human Rights Defense Center in the case Antoine Bruce v. Charles e. Samuels, Jr., et al., uses the Baggett case to demonstrate how prisoner-litigants can fight violations of the Fourth Amendment:

Egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment by prison employees also have been exposed and resolved through the efforts of prisoner-litigants. For example, plaintiff Debra Baggett represented a class of 178 female inmates videotaped by male correctional officers while subjected to strip searches… Among other practices in the videotapes, prisoners were required to strip and manipulate their bodies, including lifting their breasts and spreading their legs… The court found that these searches “clearly transgressed the Constitution and injured the plaintiff class.”

Other effects of the lawsuit include the following:

  • Case law now explicitly states that cross-gender videotaping of strip searches is unconstitutional. In August 2014, Judge Michael A. Ponsor ruled that the jail’s policy violated the Constitution. The Court found that “the degradingly vulnerable position the inmate is forcibly placed in” violated her privacy and “basic dignity.” The Court found that the policy served no legitimate purpose.
  • The Chicopee Jail changed its policy to prohibit cross-gender videotaping of strip searches. Click here to view the new policy; the changes that are a result of this lawsuit are in red.
  • Participating class members will receive compensation for the violations of their privacy.
  • State politicians have introduced a bill that would prohibit cross-gender videotaping of strip searches. Today, David Milton, Carmen Guhn-Knight, and others testified at the bill’s hearing that the bill should be expanded to prohibit all videotaping of strip searches, not just cross-gender videotaping. Here are links to David’s testimony and Carmen’s testimony.

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