An ACLU bill designed to protect privacy in the criminal justice system died this year. In 2002, a federal appeals court covering Rhode Island ruled unconstitutional the arbitrary strip searches of persons arrested for minor offenses, and Rhode Island prison and police officials abided by that decision without serious incident for ten years. In 2012, unfortunately, the US Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, overruled the First Circuit’s decision, opening the door for the Department of Corrections and local police to conduct intrusive, humiliating, and unnecessary searches on any detainee in their custody, including those in pre-trial detention for minor non-violent crimes who are not suspected of carrying contraband. In March, the ACLU of RI testified in support of legislation to reinstate the policy in place under the First Circuit decision. The bill required law enforcement to have reasonable suspicion prior to performing a strip search of misdemeanant arrestees, and a warrant based on probable cause before conducting a body cavity search. Unfortunately, neither bill received a committee vote. Read our 2012 letter to the Department of Corrections.
Strip Searches (H 5382, S 0466)
Representative Donna Walsh and Senator Gayle Goldin