ACLU of Maine Issues Warning to Sheriffs on Strip-Searches

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; Portland—Today, the ACLU of Maine Foundation warned Sheriffs to continue to observe Maine’s prohibition on suspicionless strips searches of anyone who is arrested. Strip searches and body cavity searches are intrusive and dehumanizing. Current Maine law allows jailers to strip search people arrested on serious offenses, and to strip search people when an officer has reasonable suspicion that they might be smuggling weapons or contraband. But, current law prohibits strip searching everyone without justification. “People who are brought to jail for minor non-violent offenses do not all need to be strip-searched,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maine. “We are talking about people who have not been found guilty of anything, and jails need to treat them like human beings.” The warning was issued on the heals of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court stating that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit jails from strip-searching all detainees held in general population. But, as the ACLU of Maine emphasized in its letter, there are other sources of protection for the privacy and dignity of arrestees than the U.S. Constitution. “The U.S. Constitution sets the floor, and not the ceiling, for the protection of individual rights,” said Heiden. “Maine law and the Maine Constitution continue to protect arrestees from suspicionless strip searches. Jailers can strip search people arrested for violent or drug-related offenses, and they can strip search anyone when there is a good reason to believe they are smuggling weapons, drugs, or contraband. Jailers do not need to also be allowed to strip search people for no reason.” An article by Judy Harrison in the Bangor Daily News on April 4 reported that Sheriffs in Maine are exploring ways to expand their use of strip searches. [1] The ACLU of Maine plans to closely monitor any changes in policy to ensure that jails continue to follow Maine law.

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