Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The counterweight of dignity

Lest we forget what our detained clients may be too embarrassed to tell us: Custody strips dignity. Sometimes literally.

The Rock Island County Jail in Rock Island, Illinois, for instance, won't let incoming women detainees wear their own underwear unless it is white. They have three choices: (1) go without until they can buy white undies from the commissary; (2) go without until they can call someone to bring in some of their own white undies; or (3) go without, period (and yes, even if the woman is on her period).

What? Why? How on earth does colored underwear threaten jail security?

Image result for colored womens cotton underwear

Well, duh, obviously because the detainees might extract ink from the underwear and use it to give themselves tattoos. That's according to the Rock Island County Sheriff, in his answer to a lawsuit challenging the white-underwear policy. The Sheriff didn't offer a single instance of this occurring, but the district court granted him summary judgment anyway.

The Seventh Circuit reversed, rejecting this "meager justification" and holding that even if the Sheriff could establish a legitimate security interest, the dignity harm might be excessive in relation to that interest. The Court emphasized that jail management must take dignity into account:

"Dignity serves an important balancing function alongside the legitimate safety and management concerns of jails and prisons . . . . Without the counterweight of dignity, a jail could presumably set forth security reasons to require detainees to remain naked throughout their detention or other such unseemly measures. The Constitution forbids such tactics. It requires consideration of individual dignity interests when assessing the permissibility of restrictive custodial policies."    

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