Criminal Justice

Court Sides With Prison Guards Who Forced Female Inmates To Expose Genitals During Training Exercise

The search raised Fourth Amendment concerns.


In 2011, 200 women serving sentences at the Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, woke one morning to a tactical team in riot gear, who rounded them up, handcuffed them, and herded them to the gymnasium. Eventually, the women were taken in groups of four to 10 to the adjoining beauty shop and bathroom, where they were told to take everything off—for what, they weren't sure. That included menstrual products, so some women began to bleed onto the floor.

One by one, prisoners were forced to turn around, bend over, and spread their anal and vaginal cavities for inspection. The reason? A non-required training exercise for cadets.

"Dirty bitches," said a correctional officer. Prisoners listened to a chorus of guards and cadets who called them "fucking disgusting," told them they smelled "like death," and taunted them with reminders that they "deserve[d] to be in here." The bathroom's door was kept open and the beauty shop's walls were lined with mirrors, so male officers watched from the gym.

A federal court decided in July that the incident did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled 2-1 that, because the women did the touching themselves, their right to privacy was not violated.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, a Reagan appointee, reminded the plaintiffs that they "lack any legitimate expectation of privacy inside prison walls" as it pertains to their possessions and surroundings. They are, however, legally entitled to some discretion when it comes to their own bodies, though he cited precedent which holds that such privacy applies only to the interior of the body. As such, since the prisoners did the poking and prodding themselves, their Fourth Amendment rights remained intact, he said.

"Plaintiffs allege a visual inspection, not a physical intrusion," he wrote. "They maintain that each inmate had to manipulate her own body but do not contend that the prison's staff touched any inmate."

U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee, an Obama appointee who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, was asked to sit on the panel for the 7th Circuit. He subsequently dissented, writing that the majority's stipulation fails to pass logical muster and is not supported by previous court decisions. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the subject of strip searches as they relate to privacy rights, and the 7th Circuit "has taken various, sometimes inconsistent, tacks to answer this question," claimed Lee.

Contrary to Easterbrook, he noted that there is precedent within the same circuit that supports the plaintiffs. Consider Sparks v. Stutler, in which the court ordered that involuntary catheterization violated the Fourth Amendment. And in Del Raine v. Williford, the 7th Circuit explained that a rectal probe conducted by a correctional officer crossed the line.

With those in mind, Lee argued that the only substantial difference is who is doing the manipulating since the end result is comparable. "It seems odd, however, to make the question of whether a prisoner has a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in the integrity of his or her intimate body cavities dependent on who it is that does the probing or penetrating," he wrote. "The distinction between those cases and this one—in which inmates were ordered to probe their own body cavities and subject them to visual inspection—is difficult to discern."

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38 responses to “Court Sides With Prison Guards Who Forced Female Inmates To Expose Genitals During Training Exercise

  1. I remember reading about this before. The distinction between being forcibly probed, and being told to probe yourself on risk of solitary confinement or loss of good behavior points or whatever the punishment would be for refusing to probe yourself, is lost on me, and those judges should be told to start probing themselves in front of all the spectators possible, on pain of losing their job and pension.

  2. This is one lousy decision. Hopefully, it will get a re-hearing by the full 7th, or SCOTUS.

  3. “The bathroom’s door was kept open and the beauty shop’s walls were lined with mirrors, so male officers watched from the gym.”

    The whole rest of the article seems to be about searches and privacy in prison. Since men are women and women are men and some are both and some are neither, why was this irrelevancy included?

    1. Joking aside, this may actually be one of the most important sentences in the story. Perhaps the court will decide that searches by female guards are OK, even for training purposes, but there is no justification for letting males observe.

      1. Stop gendering the guards!

    2. why was this irrelevancy included?

      Patriarchy, duh. Until they’ve been incarcerated, these narratives aren’t going to push themselves.

  4. Given that these women were convicted (i.e. it states serving sentences as opposed to awaiting trial), they do lose significant privacy rights while incarcerated. That is part of the deal of prison. There really is no way around that. Inmates are routinely strip searched and cavities checked when they enter prison. In addition, I don’t believe exposing one’s orifices is the same as physically inserting a probe. So as a matter of general principal, having inmates do what they were told to do is not unconstitutional.
    Of course, a number of those women probably shouldn’t be in jail in the first place if they were convicted of drug crimes, prostitution, etc.
    It certainly does seem like it was malicious and completely unnecessary. I don’t have any question that those guards are probably cunts. So perhaps it could be argued that while there is no real expectation of privacy in jail, that the government should have some limitations on how bad they can fuck with them. So could this be a Fourth Amendment violation due to the egregious and capricious manner in which it was handled? IDK.

    1. I agree with you, generally, but “reasonable” and “unreasonable” still exist among convicted criminals. This was a training exercise. I don’t find that a very good reason to humiliate people. There is a world of difference between searching one’s cell and personal effects for contraband and forcing them to expose their genital and anal cavities just to train cadets.

      1. I don’t disagree with you. It just seems that the 2 sides aren’t arguing what is “reasonable” as used in the Fourth amendment. The judges who agreed with the guards are saying: you are prisoners so whatever the guards want to do to short of outright killing you is fine. You have no Fourth Amendment protection of any kind. Versus the dissenter who seems to be saying that prisoners shouldn’t be strip searched because of the Fourth Amendment. And saying that probes and catheters are equal to a visual.
        So I do agree with you that this could be a Fourth Amendment violation, but not because prisoners were strip searched or even had visual cavity searches. But because it is simply not reasonable to perform an en masse search like this for training purposes all the while further humiliating the prisoners who are going through it.

        1. “So I do agree with you that this could be a Fourth Amendment violation, but not because prisoners were strip searched or even had visual cavity searches. But because it is simply not reasonable to perform an en masse search like this for training purposes all the while further humiliating the prisoners who are going through it.”

          That is how I see it, as well. Strip searches, probes, etc., can certainly be justified under certain circumstances. But all too often, some see that prisoners of the State have no rights at all, and treat them that way.

    2. Yes, I do find this unreasonable. However, I do not think that this is a constitutional violation.

      This is a prison. They are allowed to do this search in the case of an emergency. Body cavity searches are allowed. The way that they treated these prisoners is apalling, but if there was good reason (ie: a murder and they are looking for the weapon), none of the actions are that unreasonable. However, doing it en-mass and without cause is needless humiliation of people for no good reason.

      I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t lose their job. I don’t think it raises to a constitutional violation.

      1. I would say this is more of an 8th Amendment violation.

        “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”

        There is no reason for people hired to watch these people to do this.

        1. A valid argument. I happen to disagree that it falls into it, as there are circumstances under which such a search would be reasonable, and typically, performing full drills is a good idea. The primary problem is that there was no need for this to be a full drill. They could have gotten to the search, bring them in, say “this is where you would be strip searched” and let them go. Better for everyone.

          That is why I say this should be firable but it’s not a legal problem. I can follow the logic of it being a good idea to do a full drill, but it seems absurd to do so.

  5. Prison guards: Criminals who watch over other criminals.

  6. So the lesson from Easterbrook is to refuse to comply. Interesting. What a douche.

  7. Two right-wing judges imposed their authoritarian, big-government preferences by outvoting the lone judge from the liberal-libertarian mainstream.

    Predictable. Disgusting.

    The silver lining is that the deplorable, obsolete clingers will be replaced by their betters over time.

  8. As such, since the prisoners did the poking and prodding themselves, their Fourth Amendment rights remained intact…

    “Why you hitting yourself? Why you hitting yourself?”

    1. Because they wouldn’t stop resisting?

  9. In the Navy, every time we entered the swimming pool we had to drop our trunks and do exactly the same thing – “bend over & spread it.”

    I was always just glad I wasn’t the guy who had to do the inspecting.

    1. “…we had to drop our trunks and do exactly the same thing – “bend over & spread it.”

      Yeah, but you were getting paid. Did everyone mutter, “good training” during the experience?

      Seriously, what was the purpose?

  10. Too much effin’ testosterone in this world …..

  11. I’m surprised that there was only a 4th amendment objection here. Marching everyone in a group to be publicly humiliated in this way seems pretty far over into 8th amendment territory.

    The state doesn’t even allege that this was some sort of safety inspection, or any sort of legitimate search for contraband of any sort. They were using incarcerated people for a training exercise.

    The results were predictable – you put a bunch of low end people in a position with that much power over individuals and of course they are going to be less than professional.

    Somehow I doubt these judges would feel the same way if they were taken into the bathroom as a group and humiliated in this manner.

    This goes beyond “expectation of privacy”. This crosses way over into “fucking with people just because we can”. And we really shouldn’t be OK with that sort of behavior by our government.

  12. Were the cadets female? That would make a big difference.

    1. Why would females make it better? Females cannot be sexually gratified by the experience? What is your rationale?

  13. “A non-required training exercise”
    Regardless of the sex of the guards, or any guards who may or may not have been watching, the justification seems to fail in a setting where pretty much everything is either required or prohibited.

    At the least, this was about someone’s power trip.

  14. Female Inmates Forced To Expose Genitals In Prison Beauty Salon – Tax Payers Ass-Raped.

    Why the fuck does a prison have a beauty salon?

    1. “Why the fuck does a prison have a beauty salon?”

      Because prisoners are the only ones who have enough time to get the hours necessary for a cosmetology license.

      Also, the prison guards got it in their union contract so it would reduce the skank factor when banging the inmates.

  15. Prisoner experiences like this are probably why the establishment fears ex-cons having voting rights.

  16. I’ve been before Judge Lee, who is very reasonable. I do not share his difficulty of making the distinction here, however, and while the “story” sounds objectionable I’m not sure how you equate peformative self-exam with some guy’s fingers.

  17. Reason really ought to get their crap in order. The Fourth Amendment claim was dismissed. However the court allowed the case to proceed under the Eighth Amendment. The author makes it sound like the entire case was dismissed.

    If it sounds too draconian, it might be.

    1. And, as usual, Reason has opted for the ‘hot take’ narrative by presenting one side of the story in its most salacious or disapproving light in opposition to the over arching facts or narrative.

      It’s like they can’t fathom a convicted felon lying exaggerating their claims to make a case. I’m certainly not saying a search didn’t occur or that the search was legal, but a corrections officer said “Dirty bitches”? So what? Call me back when it plays over the intercom 10 hrs. a day. As near as we can tell, no (male) guards actually saw the women disrobe but mirrors were present, women were naked, and men viewing naked women is *always* a sin.

  18. “We’ll shoot you if you don’t spread your orifice.”
    “See! We didn’t do it! They did it themselves!”

    This is mighty absurd. Does “coercion” not mean anything around here anymore?

    It’s unclear that making them *perform* in this manner is less abusive than having the officers spread the orifices. Being forced to participate in your own humiliation is standard totalitarian tactic to humiliate and demoralize.

    1. Does “coercion” not mean anything around here anymore?

      You realize you’re talking about convicted felons, right? There might be a case that some of these people aren’t felons or the felonies they’re convicted of aren’t exactly felonious, but generally, forcible coercion and/or lack of personal responsibility is what got them where they are. That’s not to say that a prison can instill virtue into them just that, for any given felon, it’s not clear that the NAP applies.

  19. Forcing them to expose their genital and anal cavities just to train cadets. No, this wasn’t about any “training exercise”. This was about a group of men in the guise of Uniform that wanted to ‘eye-rape’ naked women…”legally”. Just because they wear the Badge and Uniform does not make them above being a criminal. In my experience, many of them harbor criminal intentions and motivations. As it has been proven to be the case in this incident. Bunch of nasty jack-offs as prison guards, that can’t make the grade to be cops!

  20. There is more that can be done to stop such acts of infringement of rights. I know that they are offenders but their rights need to be protected irrespective of what they did. As Lawyers of Las Vegas Nevada we are offended but the court’s decision and seek to address this issue in a higher level.

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