Ex­perts urge lim­its on strip-search­ing youths

Prac­tice should be used only in cases of ‘rea­son­able’ sus­pi­cion, task force told

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Erica L. Green erica.green@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Eri­caLG

The Depart­ment of Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices should strip-search youths charged with crimes only when agency of­fi­cials have a “rea­son­able” sus­pi­cion that they have con­tra­band, a panel of na­tional ex­perts told a state task force Thurs­day.

Mark Soler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Law and Pol­icy, said state pol­icy is too broad be­cause it re­quires strip searches when young peo­ple are first de­tained and af­ter con­tacts with the pub­lic.

Guide­lines from na­tion­ally rec­og­nized or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the An­nie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and the Amer­i­can Cor­rec­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, sug­gest that ju­ve­niles be strip-searched only in cer­tain cases. The depart­ment has said some of its poli­cies are guided by those or­ga­ni­za­tions’ stan­dards.

“DJS pol­icy, as it is writ­ten now, goes the other way,” Soler said. “They are broadly tai­lored, and they’re also not con­sis­tent with na­tional ju­ve­nile corrections stan­dards.”

The task force, com­posed of ad­vo­cates, law­mak­ers and ju­ve­nile sys­tem staffers, is ex­pected to sub­mit rec­om­mended changes to DJS pol­icy re­gard­ing strip searches and shack­ling of ju­ve­niles in De­cem­ber to Gov. Larry Ho­gan and the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly.

The depart­ment has been un­der fire since a Bal­ti­more Sun in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March high­lighted the rou­tine stripsearch­ing of ju­ve­niles in state cus­tody and the shack­ling of ju­ve­niles in court.

Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sam Abed has al­ready agreed not to re­quire strip searches af­ter vis­its with at­tor­neys and fam­ily mem­bers, and af­ter the youths re­turn from court ap­pear­ances. He has asked that those lim­its be part of the task force’s for­mal rec­om­men­da­tions.

A con­sen­sus has not been reached on whether ju­ve­niles should be rou­tinely strip-searched dur­ing in­take to a state fa­cil­ity.

Abed said that while na­tion­ally rec­og­nized guide­lines sug­gest strip searches may not be nec­es­sary af­ter vis­its, those guide­lines don’t say such searches should be lim­ited at in­take.

John Irvine, the depart­ment’s head of re­search and eval­u­a­tion, said a re­view of 36 states found that 86 per­cent re­quired strip searches at in­take. Two-thirds re­quired strip searches af­ter fam­ily vis­its. And 32 states, or 89 per­cent re­viewed, had poli­cies that called for strip searches based on “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion.”

Abed has stressed the need to en­sure safety in state fa­cil­i­ties. He noted that fam­i­lies have at­tempted to pass drugs to youths they visit. He said Thurs­day that the depart­ment is eval­u­at­ing whether to ac­quire pan-and-zoom cam­eras that would al­low staff to bet­ter su­per­vise fam­ily vis­its.

Ev­ery ju­ve­nile, re­gard­less of age, al­leged crime or whether they have been found re­spon­si­ble for the crime, is strip-searched upon in­take. About 4,300 youths cy­cled through the de­ten­tion sys­tem last year.

In the most re­cent fis­cal year, state of­fi­cials said, two 10-year-olds were de­tained — one for 21⁄ days, the other for 21⁄ hours — and both were strip-searched. The ma­jor­ity of youths de­tained by DJS are 15 to 17 years old, Irvine said.

Some ex­perts con­tend the prac­tice trau­ma­tizes youths dur­ing for­ma­tive years. Jes­sica Feier­man, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of the Ju­ve­nile Law Cen­ter, read Thurs­day from state­ments by ju­ve­niles who had been de­tained. The youths de­scribed feel­ing vi­o­lated and ashamed. Some said the ex­pe­ri­ence re­called sex­ual abuse they had suf­fered.

Still, re­search di­rectly link­ing strip searches with trauma is lim­ited.

Ar­lene F. Lee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice for Chil­dren, who serves on the Mary­land task force, said she be­lieves ex­perts are ex­trap­o­lat­ing in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent stud­ies and pass­ing their opin­ions off as re­search.

“There’s best prac­tice and there’s science — and the science is re­ally young around this,” Lee said.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land ju­nior Eric Baker, ly­ing in front, is one of the stu­dents who took a turn rep­re­sent­ing African-Amer­i­cans who have died in con­fronta­tions with po­lice, while other stu­dents and teach­ers sit near him in a protest staged at the school Thurs­day. The stu­dents say they want to bring greater aware­ness to their "#Too Many Lives Lost" cam­paign, which in­cludes signs dot­ting the cam­pus.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.