“It was a big shock,” Albert Florence, 36, tells USA Today about his 2005 strip search in a New Jersey jail that left him “scared (and) humiliated.” Tomorrow, his ordeal goes before the Supreme Court, which must decide, under the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, whether jails may strip-search people arrested in connection with minor offenses, no matter what the circumstances. Florence went through a second strip search after being transferred to another county jail. Once naked, he was ordered to squat and cough.
Florence’s appeal comes two years after the justices ruled that Arizona school authorities’ strip-search of a 13-year-old girl suspected of carrying drugs violated her rights. The majority emphasized how being forced to strip naked is a singular intrusion on privacy. Yet the high court has given jailers wide latitude over how they treat inmates because of security interests. “Jails and prisons are fraught with danger,” says Alan Ruddy, a lawyer for Essex County, N.J. “There’s an infinite amount of contraband that comes in. A strip-search is the best way to deter it.” The U.S. Justice Department and 12 states support the New Jersey jails.