An 8-year-old girl was subjected to a strip search when she visited her father in a Virginia prison over Thanksgiving weekend. Now the state is changing the policy that coerced her into the search.
The Virginia-Pilot reports that the young girl and her father's girlfriend, Diamond Peerman, went to the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn on November 24. While waiting in the visiting line, a sniffing dog trained to find contraband singled out Peerman. As a result, Peerman had to comply with a strip search. The guards initially said the young girl would not need to be stripped as well, but after consulting with their captain they reversed themselves.
If a search is refused, according to the state Department of Corrections' website, "visitation will not be authorized for that day and approval for future visits may be revoked." The Pilot also identified a policy saying that a parent or guardian who will not consent to a search of a minor can be refused entry to the facility.
Believing this was their only chance at seeing the girl's father, Peerman consented to the search. They reportedly cried. Both Peerman and the girl were then told to take their clothes off and cough in front of some female guards.
Peerman's car was also searched. Though no contraband was found, the pair was not allowed a contact visit. Instead, they could only communicate with the girl's father through glass.
The Department of Corrections' director of communications, Lisa Kinney, told the Pilot that the incident violated policy in two major ways. First: Peerman should not have been asked to consent on the girl's behalf, since she is not her legal guardian. Second: The staff member who approved the search lacked the authority to do so.
Gov. Ralph Northam today suspended all strip searches of minors visiting prisons and jails.
"I am deeply disturbed by these reports—not just as governor but as a pediatrician and a dad," he told the Pilot. "I've directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures."