Male guards cannot videotape strip searches of female inmates, a federal judge ruled last week.
The case is part of a class action suit against Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee where, since 2008, a male guard was charged with watching and recording the searches.
At the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, inmates who are transferred to a segregated unit are strip searched during the transfer. As part of this strip search, an inmate is required to “run her fingers through her hair, remove dentures if she wore them, raise both arms, lift her breasts, lift her stomach for visual inspection if she had a large mid-section, and remove any tampon or pad if she were menstruating. She was then required to turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks, and cough.”
Though the jail's official policy stated that the video-taper should only film from the neck up during these searches, 68 percent of the videos show “some or all of the women’s genitals, buttocks, or breasts.”
"It is possible some inmates might not care, but for the vast majority of inmates the scene would reasonably be experienced as painfully degrading,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor wrote in his ruling, according to the AP. “To suggest otherwise is to ignore the inborn sense of privacy most human beings harbor from childhood through the end of life.”
The court will now decide on what monetary compensation the 178 current inmates involved in the suit will get.
A press release from the lawyers representing the plaintiffs celebrated Ponsor's ruling.
"The court viewed the defendants’ claim that the male guards supposedly averted their eyes from the women while filming them — a claim female prisoners disputed — as dubious but in the end irrelevant to the ‘humiliating sense of exposure," the release, obtained by MassLive said. "Permitting male guards to stand nearby and film women prisoners being strip searched violates fundamental constitutional values and well-established correctional norms."
Jail officials denied any wrongdoing.
“There is not a shred of evidence that any male correctional officer ever watched or even saw anything,” Theresa Finnegan, staff attorney for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office said. The sheriff's office would likely appeal, Finnegan said.