A woman was arrested by police in Darby, near Philadelphia, as she walked home from a pickup basketball game, says the Philadelphia Inquirer in the second of a series on police practices. Strip-searched on an officer’s suspicion that she might have drugs, she was released without any charges being filed. No drugs were found. “It was almost like being raped,” she said. A former Philadelphia teacher was arrested on his way home from a party for his niece and charged with drunken driving. Unable to post the $2,500 bail, he was taken to a Philadelphia prison and stripped.
Thousands of people have been arrested on minor charges and strip-searched in Pennsylvania, though federal courts across the U.S. have repeatedly ruled that such practices are unconstitutional. Pennsylvania has issued no rules; the silence has produced wild disparities from town to town and county to county. Citizens not accused of any serious crimes are forced to remove their clothing and submit to invasive searches courts have described as “demeaning,” “dehumanizing” and “repulsive.” Courts permit strip searches to keep jails safe from drugs and weapons – so long as they meet legal guidelines. Until October, Philadelphia’s prisons were strip-searching all new inmates, more than 30,000 every year – even people arrested on charges as minor as disorderly conduct. After a civil-rights lawsuit, the city adopted stricter regulations. The Delaware County jail, run by a private firm, strip-searches thousands of inmates annually, regardless of charge. County officials would not talk about the issue; neither would the company, the Geo Group of Boca Raton, Fl.