When attorney Laurie Snell visited her client at the Jackson County jail Friday, it never occurred to her that along with her shoes and jewelry she’d be tossing her bra into the bin at the security gate.
But when the metal detector kept beeping, she figured she had two choices: Miss touching base with her client before an important court date, or do the only thing she could to comply with new screening measures that offer no exceptions for women who wear underwire bras.
“I went in the bathroom, took it off and threw it in the bin,” she said. “On the elevator on my way up to the see my client on the seventh floor I wriggled back into it.”
Needless to say, she was not happy about the humiliating experience or the inconvenience.
“Why should I have to do that?” she asks. “All the men have to do is take off their belts and shoes.”
She and others say the jail’s new screening policy for employees and professionals — such as lawyers — is discriminatory and are asking that corrections department director Diana Turner and her boss, Sheriff Darryl Forté, make changes to accommodate women.
But Turner was defiant when the issue was raised at Monday’s meeting of the Jackson County Legislature. Instead, she stressed the need to better control the flow of weapons and other contraband into the detention center, dumping a sackful of knives and other sharp objects onto the table in front of her.
Any one of them could be hidden in a woman’s bra, she said. Then, pointing to her chest, Turner said, “there is no way for us to tell what kind of metal is in this area.”
Legislator Crystal Williams raised the issue publicly for the first time on Twitter Monday morning after hearing from Snell and others who have complained about security screening procedures that were implemented May 16 at the Jackson County Detention Center.
Rules were already on the books telling employees and visitors on official duty what they could and couldn’t bring into the facility’s secure area. Cell phones, for instance, were forbidden. But it was more of an honor system. There were no pat-downs.
“All entered without being screened,” Forté said.
As a result, illicit drugs and other contraband were getting through, sometimes in the pockets of crooked guards. Two were prosecuted a couple of years ago after a federal investigation. A grand jury report last year linked two murders outside of the jail to cell phone calls from within the detention center.
But only last month did new procedures go into effect when Turner notified the jail’s 300-some employees of the change. Everyone would have to go through a checkpoint that consisted of an X-ray machine and metal detectors. There were strict new limits on what could be brought in.
Employees were allowed to bring two sealed bottles of water with them, but everything else had to be stowed in a locker.
Through their union, women workers complained about the bra issue. It meant that some of them had to buy different underwear for work.
Turner said Monday that employees had “made adjustments” to comply with the new screening requirements and said visitors would have to do the same. But she acknowledged that some women attorneys, mental health workers and parole officers may not have gotten the message yet because the policy is so new.
Forté issued a statement on Twitter after Williams tweeted out her concerns that women were having to take off their bras to get into the jail.
“Misinformation has been communicated about the screening process at the JCDC,” it said. “Everyone is required to pass through a metal detector. No one has been asked to take off underwire bras.”
But if they want to get into the jail, it’s about their only option, Snell said.
“Why should I have to wear a sports bra to work?” she asked.
Something needs to change, said Williams, who has heard from a number of constituents who, like her, believe the policy is sexist.
“I think we have to figure something out because people are going nuts,” she said.
Legislator Tony Miller wondered whether different technology would help, such as using the whole-body screeners that are now common at airports. At the very least, some accommodations should be made for lawyers who visit clients in the jail, he said. All have passed criminal background checks.
For now, no change is planned, but legislators are not likely to let the issue drop.
“We need to come up with a better solution, because this is not good.,” chairwoman Theresa Galvin said.