September 25, 2017
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State changes prison visitation policy in wake of bra-removal furor

By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff
Updated:
Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
Fern (left), Lori (center) and Letitia talk about their experiences with Maine State Prison guards telling them to either remove their bras or be denied access to their imprisoned family members. The three did not want their last names publicly distributed for fear of retribution.

WARREN, Maine — Two weeks after some women reported having to remove their bras in order to visit inmates at the Maine State Prison, Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick has formally changed the policy.

The new, permanent policy was added to the prison visitor’s handbook last Friday, March 17.

A temporary order was instituted earlier this month after the Bangor Daily News inquired about the policy’s shortcomings. Nearly half a dozen female visitors, one of whom is a minor, complained that they had only been granted entry as visitors to the prison if they removed their bras.

But before Fitzpatrick’s new policy was even in place, a union representing correctional officers filed a class-action grievance earlier in the week in response to the temporary policy.

Prison officials were prohibited under the temporary policy from asking female visitors to remove their bras if they activated the metal detectors and would instead allow visitation with an inmate inside a no-contact room.

Jim Mackie, representative for the corrections officers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called the temporary policy on Monday a “knee-jerk reaction” because it allowed all visitors, not just women wearing bras, into a supermax facility wearing the item that triggered the security system.

Clearly, he said, “knee-jerk resolutions don’t necessarily make good policies.”

Fitzpatrick said earlier this month that his intention was always to implement a more robust, long-term policy once he had an opportunity to draft it. The temporary directive was in place fewer than two weeks when prison officials filed their grievance with Maine Department of Corrections Human Resources Department early last week.

Under the old policy, visitors were given three attempts to pass through the prison metal detectors without triggering them. Visitors would also be told they would have to remove any item that triggered the detectors, even if it was a brassiere, otherwise the visitor would would not be allowed inside the supermax facility while wearing it.

Under the temporary policy, officials let visitors through even if the detectors were triggered, and instead the visitation took place in a no-contact room.

Even though those individuals were allowed no contact with inmates, they were still allowed into sections of the prison after they had activated the detectors, which prison officers saw as a problem, Mackie said.

Under the temporary order and under the old policy before it was changed, guards were not allowed to pat search visitors.

Fitzpatrick’s 21 pages of new policy language dictates how the prison will handle visitation and re-institutes prison officials’ ability to pat down visitors, which was not the case before.

He thinks the new language is a good “balance” of “human respect and staff safety.”

Rather than tell a female visitor, if her bra activates the metal detectors on site, that she can’t go in without removing the item, the new policy states that the visitor triggering the metal detector “shall be directed to wait for further processing until after all visitors who have cleared … A hand-held metal detector shall then be used to search the visitor.”

If the hand-held detector is triggered, “the visitor shall be asked to submit to a pat search (and) it shall be performed in a private area by security staff of the same gender or, in the case of a transgender or intersex visitor, by the gender of the visitor’s choice,” according to the new language.

All staff who are processing visitors will also now be required to wear body cameras, “to record all of their interactions with visitors,” according to the new policy. If a body camera is not available, a handheld camera will be used to record every interaction.

Mackie said he believes the new policy will appease the 30 prison guards who signed the grievance, but they will wait first for the DOC’s written response to the complaint, which should come sometime this week.

 


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