CT Lawmakers curtail push to end routine strip searches in prisons

Members of the Judiciary Committee made significant changes to a bill that sought to place severe limits on the practice

from Journal Inquirer

An effort to end routine strip searches in Connecticut’s correctional facilities is unlikely to succeed this year as lawmakers have instead opted to gather information on what it would take to implement body scanning technology in the jails and prisons.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Thursday to advance a revised version of Senate Bill 1196 to the House and Senate for consideration, as opposed to the initial proposal which would have raised the standard for correctional officers to perform strip searches on incarcerated people from reasonable suspicion to probable cause.

S.B. 1196’s new language would instead require the Department of Correction, which oversees the jails and prisons, to submit a proposal to the state for obtaining body scanning machines that would be used to conduct full-body X-ray screenings on incarcerated people.

It would also require the agency’s commissioner, Angel Quiros, to submit to the legislature a report on the estimated costs of implementing the technology, the number of machines required, information concerning potential health risks with the technology and the capability of the technology to replace strip searches.

Quiros would have to submit that report before or on Feb. 1 of next year.

While the revised legislation would likely create a pathway for lawmakers to place limits on strip searches at some point in the coming years, a delayed timeline goes against the wishes of incarcerated people and community organizers who have been calling for severe limitations to what some view as one of the “most humiliating and intrusive allowances that occur in prison facilities.”

“I’m just so frustrated and aggravated sitting here listening to them make excuses for why they’re doing what they’re doing,” said Barbara Fair of Stop Solitary CT, an organization advocating for humane treatment of people behind bars, a champion of the bill. “And then to try to pretend like you’re actually doing something to help incarcerated people, that’s just so infuriating and frustrating for me.”

But Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said the revised bill was the best chance at making progress on strip search policy during the current legislative session.

Following a public hearing on the legislation earlier this month, he said he engaged with the legislative branch, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office and the DOC, and found there likely wasn’t enough support to get the bill signed into law.

Quiros, twice nominated to his position by the governor, has said he opposes severe limitations to the strip searches. Correctional officials and employees have defended the practice as a deterrent for slowing the spread of drugs and weapons in correctional facilities.

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