Editorials

Who thought forcing women to remove underwire bras at Jackson County jail was a good idea?

Tales of women attorneys and visitors being forced to remove their bras in order to gain entry to the Jackson County jail almost sound too sexist to be true.

But no, in fact, the Jackson County Detention Center’s new security screening policy appears aimed at humiliating women who have the audacity to don underwire undergarments.

The new security measures, adopted in May, require all visitors who enter the jail and have physical contact with inmates to pass through a checkpoint and comply with strict restrictions.

The mandate applies to everyone, including defense attorneys, public defenders, corrections staff and visitors. And an untold number of women have been chagrined to learn that underwire can set off the detention center’s metal detectors.

“The safety and security of our employees, inmates, and the community remain a priority for me,” Sheriff Darryl Forté said in a statement. “The new safety measures will aid us in ensuring the safety of everyone.”

The effectiveness of the new policies remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that they single out women such as attorney Laurie Snell and subject them to unnecessary embarrassment.

Snell’s visit last week to see a client was delayed after she set off the metal detector several times as she attempted to enter the jail. The offending contraband? The underwire in her bra. Short on options, Snell went in the bathroom, removed her bra and threw it in a plastic bin.

Snell, who correctly notes that the only inconvenience men encounter is removing their belts and shoes, told The Star that she “wriggled back into” her undergarment on the elevator as she headed up to the see her client on the jail’s seventh floor.

Inmates have a legal right to see their attorneys. And neither Snell nor any woman should be forced to choose between visiting a client and remaining fully dressed.

Forté should discontinue the discriminatory practice and implement new procedures for screening women, bras and all.

The policy was enacted to combat the flow of contraband into the understaffed detention center, jail officials say. But unauthorized underwire bras are the least of the outdated facility’s problems.

Overcrowding, understaffing and low wages have crippled efforts to recruit corrections officers. Adding restrictive barriers and essentially telling women to purchase new bras isn’t the answer.

Forté is correct that security at the Jackson County Detention Center must be a priority. But somehow, most jails across the country — not to mention airports and an array of other secure venues that rely on metal detectors — have managed to develop screening procedures that do not involve women removing their bras in public buildings.

Some other jails that have taken aim at the dangerous scourge of supportive brassieres have been met with lawsuits and general outrage.

In 2015, the Cumberland County Sheriff in Portland, Maine, apologized after deputies asked female attorneys there to remove their bras. The sheriff, Kevin Joyce, accepted responsibility for the incident and ordered deputies to use a metal detecting wand instead of subjecting females to embarrassment.

Jackson County could implement a similar procedure. A pat-down search by a female deputy is an option as well. But Forté has offered up no such solutions.

Instead, the sheriff and Jackson County Detention Center Director Diana Turner have doubled down, refusing to adjust the policy to accommodate underwire-bra-wearing women.

Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams called the decision, “arbitrary, sexist and wrong.”

“Asked for a brief suspension so it could be evaluated was told no,” Williams wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “Lovely.”

Officials say that the proliferation of contraband inside the jail prompted new security measures.

But research from the Prison Policy Initiative has found that almost all contraband that makes it way into local jails is brought in by staff.

Last year, a former corrections officer at the Jackson County Detention Center was sentenced to 16 months in the federal penitentiary after pleading guilty to smuggling cellphones, drugs and other items to inmates. The corrections officer and another officer were among four people charged in the case. The other two suspects were an inmate and his acquaintance.

Forté says the Sheriff’s Office will continue to make changes aimed at improving safety and security at the county jail. He should start by enacting a screening policy that doesn’t humiliate women.

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