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location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 4 / Chapter 3 The Arbour Report: The Indictment of a System / The Strip Search of April 26-27, 1994

The Strip Search of April 26-27, 1994

As Madam Justice Arbour found, the law is quite clear that men may not strip-search women. The only exception is where a delay in locating women staff to conduct the search would be dangerous to human life or safety or might result in the loss of evidence. The decision to deploy a male emergency response team to strip-search the women in segregation at the P4W was made following a recommendation of Correctional Supervisor Warnell:

Given the fragile psyche of the officers at the institution at this time, I strongly recommend that an IERT cell extraction team be brought in and all inmates in the dissociation side be taken from their cells, strip searched and placed in strip cells. I do not feel that our officers should have to continue to suffer this type of abuse when we have the means to put a stop to it. Otherwise, I fear that we will have more staff requesting stress leaves and a diminished credibility toward management. (Arbour at 65)

The warden concurred with that recommendation and did not consider negotiating with the prisoners prior to the deployment of the team. Neither were the prisoners advised that the team would be put into action if they did not stop their disruptive activities. The manner in which the IERT subsequently carried out its mandate is captured on the videotape of the exercise.

Prior to the video being turned on, the IERT marched into the Segregation Unit in standard formation, approached Joey Twinsí cell and banged on the bars of her cell with the shield. She immediately did as she was ordered, and when the video begins she is lying face down in her cell surrounded by IERT members who are holding her down. An officer now identified as a female member of the Prison for Women staff, cuts off Ms. Twinsí clothing with the 911 tool [a curved knife], while IERT members hold her down. The extent to which they are assisting the female officer in the actual cutting and removal of the clothes is difficult to tell from the tape. Ms. Twinsí hands are cuffed behind her back and her legs shackled. She is marched backwards out of her cell naked, and led to the corner of the range. There she is held against the wall with the clear plastic shield, with her back against the wall. Some IERT members stand around her while the IPSO, Mr. Waller, and maintenance men from the prison enter the Segregation Unit to begin stripping Ms. Twinsí cell. The corner where Ms. Twins is standing is visible to anyone in the unit or standing in the doorway separating the dissociation side from the protective custody side of the Segregation Unit . . . The warden and deputy warden were not in the dissociation side during the strip searches.

While she is still being held in the corner, a paper gown is brought to Ms. Twins and tied around her neck. The effect is something like that of a bib. The paper gown neither covers her, nor provides warmth.

Upon her return to the cell, an IERT member begins the extremely lengthy process of attempting to apply a body belt in substitution of her handcuffs, during which procedure her gown comes off . . .

Finally, this lengthy procedure is completed and she is left lying on the floor of her cell in restraints -- body belt and leg irons, and with a small paper gown . . .

The video and the evidence reveal that the cell extraction and strip search of the remaining inmates was substantially similar to those of Ms. Twinsí, with certain exceptions.

. . . The video shows the last inmate who was strip searched, Brenda Morrison, with her clothes on when the IERT enter the cell. In response to their order for her to kneel and remove her clothing, she asks questions about what will happen if she does not remove them. The questions are not answered. Rather, restraint equipment is applied over her clothing, at which point she offers to take her clothes off. They direct her to lie face down. She does not immediately do so and they force her to the ground. Three IERT members hold her down and rip and then cut her shirt open at the back while the female correctional officer cuts her pants off. (Arbour at 71-73)

The graphic depiction of these events is supplemented in the report by Ms. Morrisonís testimony.

I felt very degraded and pissed off. I donít know -- I donít know how anybody can do that to somebody and live with themselves. How they can walk in there, rip my clothes and say "Itís okay, I was doing my job; it was professional." Maybe if the tables were turned they wouldnít think so, but the tables arenít. I donít know how any man can do that to any woman and say it was their job. As far as I know, itís a crime. A crime was committed there. And if something like that happened down the street, thatís a crime. If you go in an apartment and rip girlsí clothes off, thatís a crime. Thatís sexual assault . . .

If somebody can stand here and tell me, look me in the eyes and tell me thatís right, I ask myself: where is justice? What about justice inside the institution? Is there any for us inside? We must not, because we are criminals.

The report continues with its summary of events as depicted on the videotape.

Throughout the strip searches, there is a fairly constant level of talking and calling in the Segregation Unit. Inmates are heard to call out their requests that the windows be closed. These had been opened prior to the IERT attendance to clear out the remaining smoke from the earlier fires. Although the smoke had already cleared when the operation began at 11:40 p.m., the windows were left open until after 2 in the morning, notwithstanding the fact that the temperature was between 11 and 12 degrees. Other requests, for tampax, medication, eye glasses, are called out, as are comments which were interpreted by some who were present in the unit to be flirtatious, joking or defiant in nature. Some called out that they were being raped. In addition, questions about what was happening and about whether the IERT were all male were directed to IERT members. Some expressed their fear at the memory of previous sexual assaults. Consistent with IERT training, questions and requests were not answered . . .

There was no security reason not to give the women more appropriate gowns for covering themselves immediately after the strip search. Nor was there a security or any other reason offered for leaving the windows open for almost three hours after the smoke in the unit had cleared.

At the end of the procedure, pursuant to the wardenís instructions, the women were left on the cement floor of their cells in body belts, leg irons, paper gowns, and with nothing else. The bolted beds had been removed from the cells and there was nothing left but a sink and a toilet. They remained in that condition until the early afternoon of the following day when each was given one security blanket. While there was some attempt to suggest that this state of affairs was due to security concerns, no plausible explanation was offered for keeping the women in leg irons and depriving them of any means of keeping warm. (Arbour at 74-77)

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