Children, Naked, Because Rules

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?

13 thoughts on “Children, Naked, Because Rules

  1. RR

    They could always strip search the prisoner afterwards instead. Though that might be too late if it’s a weapon transfer or a consumable item.

    1. SHG Post author

      It might not be a perfect solution, but it’s far better than stripping children. And while I’m not certain about California, strip-searching inmates after contact visits is routine already.

  2. morgan sheridan

    The requirement to strip search children is absolutely deviant. Not only does it traumatize them at the site of the search, it will give the bad actors among the prison guards opportunity to choose children and teens upon whom they can prey outside the prison. There is no good that can come of this deviant practice. This is effectively a generational punishment as well. Not only is the parent punished through imprisonment, but the child is punished because of having a parent in prison.

    1. The Real Peterman

      I understand the urge to keep contraband out of prisons, but when someone’s proposal to do so is “let’s strip search kids” there is obviously something wrong with that person. Maybe we need to drug test lawmakers.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          Sure it will, if you set the mandatory minimum high enough. Get rid of all the jailers too stupid to score the high quality stuff.

  3. David M.

    When I was 17 and thinking about studying law, I spent a couple of weeks following my aunt, a German judge, around. One time, her duties took her to check up on a prisoner. My first time going to prison! I remember walking into the building, standing there in my little suit, and just marveling at how exactly the place resembled a college dorm, right down to the lame two-tone color scheme they’d used to paint the walls. The bars on the windows were the only thing out of place.

    No intrusive security. Nothing, we just went straight up. The prisoner was a little wiry guy wearing his own clothes. He’d decorated his cell (which was dorm room size, and all his own) a little, and he seemed pretty cheerful. That’s understandable, because those guys are given both educational opportunities of all kinds and a lot of freedom. The prison staff undergo training until they basically double as social workers, so they’re usually around to lend a helping hand if something’s up. The guard who opened the prisoner’s cell knocked first.

    All that effort put into treating prisoners like people had a strange effect, at least on me – I understood that the prisoner we were visiting was a person. Just that, no more. Perhaps it’s that antagonistic, dehumanizing war-on-crime-and-therefore-criminals mindset, as much as anything, that makes strip-searching children sound good to those California bureaucrats.

  4. Tim Cushing

    Drugs and other “contraband” are also illegal to possess on school grounds, but I don’t see anyone suggesting all students be strip-searched (pending a dog’s nod) at school entrances. But apparently it’s ok if it involves a prison because fuck those guys, if they didn’t want their kids strip-searched, they shouldn’t have committed criminal acts. They’ve already dehumanized the incarcerated. Now, they’re coming after their kids.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m really hoping your brilliant substantive comment was cut short because your margarita slipped and your finger hit the wrong button. Right? Right?!?

  5. Marc R

    It’s already painful enough for kids to visit. I think any CDL can say this with authority; think about your own visits to prison to visit clients. The prisons don’t try to make it uncomfortable for lawyers but going to state prison is a step up in painfulness than county jail. State prisons have this Dostoyevskian vibe to them where I get nauseous with empathy visiting clients the status quo wants to keep locked up forever. So imagine these aren’t clients but it’s your flesh and blood. Now imagine you’re a child. It’s not the prison’s fault the inmate has visitors coming to see him. They didn’t lock the inmate up. But either you don’t allow family visits at all or you do them with a semblance of dignity. Just like you don’t lock people up 24/7 in isolation with just bread and water, you have to allow their family dignity if you want the system to last. How long until inmates strike and forbid their families to visit so long as this policy is in place? Then what happens with unhappy, dehumanized inmates who think they have nothing to lose in long-term sentences? With the TSA at least all kids do it regardless who daddy is; here the kids seem particularly singled out because they chose to born to the wrong mom or dad.

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