Jail Strip Searches: The Light at the End of the Tunnel Was Not a Train

Until the late 1970s, it was a foregone conclusion that jail officers could strip search all prisoners to further the security of the jail and the safety of staff and prisoners. Then in 1977, a federal District Court in New York ruled that visual body-cavity searches of prisoners in a federal pretrial detention facility were unconstitutional “absent probable cause to believe that the inmate is concealing contraband.”(1) Although the fact seems to have been lost on judges who ruled in later cases that have restricted strip searches of arrestees at booking, the district court actually “upheld the strip search procedure but prohibited [only] the body cavity searches, absent probable cause . . . .”