location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 5 / Chapter 4 The Power to Search and the Protection of Privacy / Balancing Prisoners Dignity and Staff Safety

Following the events of March 1998, strip searches in the Segregation Unit were conducted using the privacy screen. Two staff members conducted the strip search and others stood behind the screen, ready to intervene if there were any problems. This procedure could easily have been adapted for the emergency searches by the ERT in F and G units. In other words, the legitimate concerns Mr. Noon-Ward expressed for the protection of staff could have been respected, while also protecting the dignity of the prisoners through less intrusive and restrictive measures.

Transferring the focus of the inquiry from the ERT search procedures in F and G unit to those used for the searches of the rest of the units, the justificatory process for deviating from the procedures set out in s. 46 of the CCR Regulations by using more than two staff members to conduct the strip searches, becomes much more difficult for the Kent authorities. These searches involved the significant modification of posting two officers outside the door of every cell on the range. As I have described, the effect of this was that the naked prisoner was required to walk by a phalanx of officers and, as Mr. Hanson's graphic account suggests, have his dignity and privacy even more compromised than in the procedures used by the Emergency Response Team. The purpose of this modification in the procedures -- to ensure that prisoners did not dispose of the contraband that was the subject of the search -- is a rather frail reed upon which to justify this additional security presence. Surely, if this were believed to be a concern, why was it not utilized in the search of F and G units, given that these units were the ones in which it was believed the contraband was most likely to be found. As the search moved from these units to the rest of the institution, the chances of finding the contraband lessened and the other prisoners, well aware at this point that there was a general search of the institution under way, had all the time they needed to dispose of contraband items by throwing them out of their windows or flushing them down the toilet. That the Kent authorities themselves recognized this diminishing likelihood of recovering the contraband gun and ammunition was evidenced by their allowing the general population prisoners out of their cells on Saturday, and on Sunday permitting them to go to the common room twelve at a time.

What happened at Kent was that, once a set of search procedures were decided upon, they were strictly adhered to without any reassessment of their necessity having regard to both the safety of the staff and the dignity of the prisoners. It was only after Mr. Hanson challenged the legality of the procedures that any change occurred. That change -- permitting the prisoners to put on their shorts prior to being escorted down the range for the strip search was a measure which served the purpose of protecting the prisoner's dignity by avoiding the spectacle of prisoners being paraded naked down the range; it did not, however, cure the problem of having the strip search itself conducted in front of a large number of officers without consideration of whether this was necessary to protect the staffs' safety.

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