California’s corrections director has ordered an end to a long-standing policy permitting male guards to pat down female prisoners, reports the Los Angeles Times. The change comes more than a year after a coalition of advocacy groups requested it, saying the searches amounted to sexual abuse of female convicts, about half of whom have histories of being raped or molested.
The policy was changed after critics made their plea to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new director of corrections, Jeanne Woodford. Woodford, a former warden, named a task force that last week recommended the practice be stopped. The change will affect searches of about 11,000 women at the state’s four female prisons. Female guards will still be permitted to pat down male convicts because that practice hasn’t drawn criticism. A former inmate, Ana Bolton Arguello, called the male pat downs of women “sanctioned sexual abuse.” “Being patted down by male staff was a daily insult and humiliation for us when I was inside,” said Arguello, who now works for the advocacy group California Prison Focus. The new policy will not take effect immediately, largely because only about one-third of the correctional officers at the state’s two largest women’s prisons are female. To shift that balance, the department likely will mount a recruiting drive.