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Mass. Prison Officials Alter Policies After Attorneys' Bra Search Complaints

The Massachusetts Department of Correction has updated its search policies after some female attorneys complained they were subjected to unlawful searches when going to see clients.

DOC's new operating procedures say correction officers will not conduct patdowns if it appears an underwire bra is setting off a metal detector.

But if guards aren't satisfied the bra is the source of the metal, they'll ask the visitor to consent to a pat search. The searches will not involve telling the woman to shake out her bra, according to DOC.

The policy comes in response to a written complaint from attorney Patricia DeJuneas. She says in late February, after her underwire bra set off metal detectors at MCI-Norfolk, the officer in charge told her to go behind a curtain with some female guards for a pat search. At that point, she says the female officers told her to lift her shirt to expose her bra, pull the bra away from her body, and shake it. She refused, but was still allowed to enter the prison.

Other female attorneys have described similar searches at prisons in Norfolk.

In a letter to DeJuneas, Thomas Dickhaut, a DOC deputy commissioner, says DOC is issuing new Standard Operating Procedures that will detail what is to happen when a visitor sets off metal detectors and the detectors indicate the metal is in a location consistent with an underwire bra.

"In such circumstances, staff shall inquire of the visitor as to what the visitor believes to be the cause of the positive alert," Dickhaut says in the letter. "If the answer to this inquiry, in conjunction with the metal detector results, satisfies the staff person that an underwire bra is the cause of the positive alert, barring any other security concerns, the visitor shall be allowed into the facility without any further search being conducted."

But if the staff person "is not satisfied" that the detector was triggered by a bra, the visitor "shall be asked to consent in writing to a pat search," the letter reads. "Any pat search will not include asking the visitor to shake out the bra."

DeJuneas says while she's glad DOC included all visitors in its new policies, she's concerned they don't go far enough.

"I'm not sure that restricting this to preventing officers from asking us to shake out our bras is sufficient to kind of reel in the unbridled discretion that seems to have been going on, at least at MCI-Norfolk," she says.

According to DeJuneas, officers at MCI-Norfolk told her such bra searches happen "all the time." It was the first time she experienced such a request.

In his letter, Dickhaut says the introduction of contraband into a correctional facility is "a serious threat to the security of that facility and to the safety of staff and inmates alike." He goes on to say there have been past instances in which attorneys have attempted to bring contraband into Massachusetts prisons.

Earlier:

Lynn Jolicoeur Twitter Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.

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