Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.

rikersA Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Degradation of captives is central to the culture of the American criminal justice system. The City of New York spares no expense to allow jail guards to routinely violate inmates’ rights and court orders through illegal strip searches – a “pattern and practice” that has cost taxpayers at least $81 million.
NYC Spends Tens of Millions to Illegally Humiliate Prisoners
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Guards at Rikers Island jail continued their practice of blanket strip searches in brazen violation of the court’s specific orders.”
Way back in 1986, a federal judge ruled that it was illegal for guards at New York City’s super-jail on Rikers Island to strip search peoplearrested on misdemeanor charges, like marijuana smoking, subway fare-beating, or shoplifting. That was 24 years ago, but the city’s Department of Corrections never stopped the routine strip searches, even after a series of successful law suits wound up costing the taxpayers a total of $81 million in damages.
The original court decision found that subjecting prisoners held on minor charges to automatic strip searches violated their 4thAmendment Constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure. But New York City jail officials apparently believed that court rulings were meant for inmates to obey, not themselves. The Corrections Department violated the order for 15 years, until a class action suit by former inmates forced the city to pay $43 million in damages, in 2001. Still, they kept on strip searching everyone, as if the suit never happened.
The next year, in 2002, the city settled another strip search suit, costing the taxpayers $5 million. This time, the city promised to replace strip searches with a piece of equipment called a Body Orifice Security Scanner. Prisoners would disrobe, put on a gown, and sit in a specially-built chair that would allow guards to electronically look into the inmates’ body cavities for drugs, weapons or other hidden contraband. New York City bought 50,000 gowns for the inmates to wear as they
sat in the chair. The judge thought the issue was settled.
Jailers strip search inmates to humiliate them – not for security purposes.”
But the guards at Rikers Island jail continued their practice of blanket strip searches for five more years in brazen violation of the court’s specific orders. By 2007, Rikers Island inmates had won yet another class action suit – this one for $33 million. Jail authorities had illegally strip searched 150,000 inmates, and hadn’t even used all the 50,000 gowns that had been purchased to comply with the judge’s order, most of which were still sitting in a warehouse.
In the ensuing investigation, practically every Corrections Department guard and official questioned swore to have never even seen anyone strip searched at Rikers Island – a sprawling facility through which about 130,000 inmates pass every year, more than the prison populations o35 states. Finally, the city admitted to having carried out a “pattern and practice” of illegal strip searches – nearly a quarter-century after a court ordered them to stop the practice, and at a cumulative cost of $81 million.
The moral of this sordid little tale, is that jailers strip search inmates to humiliate them – not for security purposes.Even when there are technical means available to find contraband, jailers prefer to degrade and dehumanize their prisoners. And city governments are willing to pay out tens of millions of dollars in damages to immunize lawless jailers from punishment, just as cities routinely fork over millions in damages for police officers that abuse, maim and kill citizens. Police and prison lawlessness is institutionalized in the United States. Covering it up is a big-budget item. For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted 

Direct download: 20100331_gf_StripSearches.mp3
Category:politics -- posted at: 1:50am EST