Female Lawyers Allege Improper Searches On Prison Visits

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State public safety officials are defending how a female attorney was searched at a Massachusetts prison this week.

Attorney Patty DeJuneas said when she tried to visit a client at MCI Norfolk this week, supervisors at the prison pulled her aside because the underwire in her bra set off the metal detectors.

"I agreed to a wand search, you know the handheld scanner, and that confirmed that to the extent that there was any metal on my person, that's the area that it was in," DeJuneas said. "And for some reason instead of letting me go through, the shift lieutenant insisted that I be patted down, to see if I had any weapons on me.

"Having agreed to the pat down search, I'm brought behind a curtain where there's two female guards, and one of them told me to lift up my top to where my breasts were, to move my bra away from my body and shake it. And at that point I said this isn't a pat down, it's a strip search, and absolutely not, I refuse to comply with this."

Although DeJuneas was able to see her client without being searched, she wrote to the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, saying the proposed search would have been illegal. She says "the only way that they're allowed to ask for a pat down search of an attorney is if there's an unexplained source of metal on our bodies."

In a statement, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security defended its handling of the situation.

“Department of Correction officers followed the proper procedure for entry into MCI-Norfolk," the statement read. "At no point did attorney DeJuneas move or remove any clothing. She was allowed to meet with her client.”

This isn't the first time MCI Norfolk has dealt with this issue.

Back in 2006, attorney Janet Pumphrey complained of invasive searches at the same prison. She says she went through hours of waiting and invasive searches to see clients.

"MCI Norfolk is the only one with this kind of a humiliating process," Pumphrey said. "After my letter in 2006 it got better, and then I've recently heard that it's started up again."

Attorney Rosemary Scapicchio says she filed suit alleging similar problems more than a decade ago. She says she settled that suit, but is not permitted to discuss the terms of the settlement, except to say that she was then allowed to see her incarcerated clients.

The Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts says it has heard from several attorneys who say they were improperly searched when trying to visit their clients in prison.

Sarah Wunsch, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, says the searches not only infringe on attorney's rights but they also affect their ability to provide counsel.

"It makes it harder for attorneys to go meet with their clients if they think they're going to be subjected to searches like this," Wunsch said. "This is not just a little pat down, these essentially are strip searches, and I don't think men are being asked to drop their drawers and shake their private parts."

This segment aired on February 27, 2015.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.


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Rachel Paiste is a news writer and editor at WBUR.



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