Editorials

A ‘bra-gate’ resolution: Jackson County jail belatedly ends sexist security screenings

Bra protest in front of jackson county courthouse

Women attorneys protest Wednesday at the Jackson County Courthouse against jail security policy requiring removal of underwire bras.
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Women attorneys protest Wednesday at the Jackson County Courthouse against jail security policy requiring removal of underwire bras.

The Jackson County jail’s sexist, protest-inducing, lawsuit-inviting practice of making some female attorneys take off their bras to get through its metal detector mostly died out in June — after the machine’s settings mysteriously seemed to change without explanation following a public backlash.

But going forward, the women attorneys, who depend on access to clients that is equal to their male colleagues’, can’t be expected to cede their legal and constitutional rights to the vagaries of a fickle device.

So Sunday, after a ludicrous series of extended delays and protracted negotiations, the jail is set to institute a formal policy of secondary checks — pat downs and wanding — for all lawyers who sign a consent form.

It’s hoped the agreement will avert costly lawsuits the county was likely to lose, as well as end an embarrassing, archaic assault on women’s rights: While female lawyers with underwire bras had been asked to take them off to pass the screening, men sailed through in belts, ties and shoelaces to see their clients. The practice was humiliating personally and debilitating professionally.

Attorney Tracy Spradlin, who spearheaded the resolution on behalf of dozens of women lawyers who’d earlier taken to the streets in protest, commended the county counselor’s office and sheriff’s office for the final result.

She’s being overly kind. A secondary screening was always a simple and ready alternative. Why did this have to be so doggone hard and drawn-out?

Look no further than Sheriff Darryl Forté, whose rigidity caused the brouhaha to begin with and whose intransigence — he never would meet with the women lawyers — prolonged a wholly unnecessary stalemate.

The women weren’t trying to get on an international flight, which is easier, or visit someone on death row, which should be harder but likely isn’t. They were merely seeking to meet with inmates who, by the way, are carefully watched during meetings with their lawyers and are subsequently strip-searched.

“I just want to get in and do my job, represent my clients, and get out,” Spradlin said — adding that female lawyers meeting alone with larger, stronger inmates “have no interest in arming them.”

The sheriff’s emphasis on forbidding contraband is certainly defensible, but the length of this debacle is not. At one point, unable to broker a compromise, county legislators unsuccessfully prodded Forté to meet with the women lawyers, even going so far as to suggest he enlist professional mediation.

Jackson County taxpayers can thank the women lawyers, and the county counselor’s office, for going the extra mile to work out an amicable solution to save untold costs in litigation — as well as easily avoidable indignities for women.

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