Anywhere else, a requirement that would allow grownups to force innocent children to remove their clothing would be cause for a swift prosecution and, likely, a long prison sentence followed by a living under a bridge. Anywhere but a prison visiting room.
Via the Chronicle of Social Change:
For the more than 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, the holiday season brings a poignant mixture of torment and joy. On the one hand, it may mean a rare opportunity to visit a parent behind bars—for some, the only visit of the year. But the love and connection a visit can bring are tempered by the fear of driving past razor wire, passing through metal detectors, and being subjected to the scrutiny of uniformed guards.
This holiday season, some children may face an even more disturbing intrusion. Under new regulations recently proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), visitors will be subjected to canine searches in an effort to prevent the flow of contraband such as drugs and cell phones into the state’s prisons. Should the search result in a positive alert (even a false positive, which research has shown comprise as many as 80 percent of all positive identifications), the visitor in question must submit to a strip search or else forgo the visit. The regulations make no exception for children, and existing CDCR paperwork regarding unclothed searches explicitly includes accompanying minors.
The article goes on to discuss the trauma suffered by children, teens, forced to choose between visiting their incarcerated parents and being strip searched before corrections officers. There are, of course, the well-known dog sniff issues, which the Supreme Court could have fixed had it not loved puppies so very much. There is also the cynical view of corrections officers, enjoying this new-found job perk, though it might be unfair to blame them for a duty thrust upon them, whether they like it or not.
But a more systemic focus would be on the clash of rules, the need to keep contraband out of the prison system, and the protection of children from this outrageously traumatic and disgraceful intrusion.
Rule. If you accept the premise that inmates shouldn’t have access to drugs, cellphones and weapons, then it’s hard to question why such a rule would exist. Put aside the minor hypocrisy that guards aren’t similarly searched, even though it’s one of the worst kept prison secrets that contraband provides a lucrative second revenue source for some.
If children were exempt from dog sniffs, and then strip searched, there isn’t much question that some inmates would exploit their own children. Let’s not forget that there are some truly bad dudes in there.
At the same time, the trauma for a child to be strip searched is undeniable. This is exacerbated by the fact that dog sniffs are absurdly unreliable, meaning that a huge number of false positives will compel a huge number of children to be needlessly subjected to the trauma of a strip search.
Or, of course, they can just be denied contact visits, perhaps all visits, with a parent.
An immediate thought that might alleviate some of the insanity would be the nudie detectors used at airports, though they’re expensive (and available on eBay if you want one of your own) and its unclear whether they would serve to screen out drugs. The only thing more important than rules are budgets.
Children attempting to visit with their parent in any of California’s 35 adult correctional institutions are already subject to inspection, but the proposed canine searches will impose an added level of shock. For children who are already afraid of dogs or large animals, the presence of drug dogs will be terrifying, not to mention the serious health problems it may create for those with dog allergies. Lizzy, 15, a member of Project WHAT! which supports young people experiencing parental incarceration in making their voices heard said “I’m scared of dogs. It makes me not want to visit my father.”
“You tell me when it became legal to see a naked child?” Lizzy asked heatedly. “I’m already traumatized by the gates and the guards. If I fail the test, I will be stripped? This is so dehumanizing. It will traumatize me for life.”
While I rarely get too caught up in claims of trauma, this time it strikes home. Hard. This is pretty sick stuff. Yes, there are rules. Yes, the rules make sense. But no, forcing children to stand naked before prison guards cannot be shrugged off as an unfortunate by-product.
At what point does our societal compulsion for rules go too far? Do naked children cross the line? Is the risk of introducing contraband into prisons so severe, so harmful, that the infliction of this trauma on children is worth it?
For many people, the belief that enough rules, enforced with extreme prejudice if necessary, will create that perfect world that they so deeply desire. Was this price you are willing to pay for their perfect world?