Lawyers have settled a class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of inmates who were illegally strip-searched at Burlington County, N.J., correctional facilities between 2004 and 2012, a period during which everyone brought in was ordered to undress and be searched regardless of how minor were the charges they faced, reports Philly.com. People arrested for disorderly person offenses, traffic citations, or failure to pay child support were among those who were strip-searched, even in cases where they were detained only for a few hours while waiting to post bail. A $2.4 million federal settlement calls for a $1.5 million fund to be created to cover claims for as many as 14,000 former inmates and allows $925,000 in fees for the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
An inmate who was arrested for a minor offense and strip-searched could receive from $100 to $400 for a claim, depending on the number of inmates who submit claims. Judge Noel Hillman of U.S. District Court in Camden had determined that the county’s blanket strip-search policy violated New Jersey law, which he said was tougher than established federal cases governing strip searches. In 2015, Hillman ruled that state law allows county jails to strip-search a person arrested for a minor offense only when there is a reason to suspect that a weapon, drugs, or contraband is being concealed, or when there is consent. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of inmates subjected to the blanket strip-search policy after they were arrested for offenses punishable by less than six months in jail. In most cases, corrections officers filled out paperwork required to conduct the searches but left blank the area that asked why they had a reasonable suspicion to justify such action.