Stop strip searching my mom!

June 5 deadline is looming!

The deadline to comment on new – and unacceptable – rules for prison visiting is Friday, June 5! Issued by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) supposedly to keep drugs and cell phones from being smuggled into the prisons – contraband most often brought in by guards for sale to prisoners – the new rules call for strip searching any visitor singled out by sniffing dogs.

This dog sniffs for cell phones, drugs and tobacco in the visiting room and the cells at Butler County Jail in Dayton, Ohio. Because many small children are terrified of police dogs, using them to sniff visitors directly will be a severe deterrent to their visiting their incarcerated parents and other loved ones.
This dog sniffs for cell phones, drugs and tobacco in the visiting room and the cells at Butler County Jail in Dayton, Ohio. Because many small children are terrified of police dogs, using them to sniff visitors directly will be a severe deterrent to their visiting their incarcerated parents and other loved ones.

Dolores Canales, co-founder of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, urges everyone to submit comments right away: “As CDCr continues to implement constant changes in the visiting process, it is becoming more and more intrusive and degrading to family members and loved ones attempting to visit. Visitors are now being subjected to full unclothed body searches and to be sniffed by dogs in air scan searches (where the dog sniffs the air around the visitor).

“CDCr said the original intent was to look for cell phones and drugs, but they have now included that the canine sniff visitors for tobacco. What is becoming obvious is that CDCr is doing everything in their power to alienate family members and loved ones from visiting even though outside support and family reunification play a major role in rehabilitation.

The deadline to comment on new – and unacceptable – rules for prison visiting is Friday, June 5!

“Please send in your comments opposing the use of canine air scan searches for tobacco and denying civilian visitors the right to refuse these strip searches. CDC is attempting to deny visiting for up to one year should anyone refuse three strip searches in a one-year period.

“Fax your comments to 916-324-6075, Attention: Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, or email them to RPMB@cdcr.ca.gov. Thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter – in love and solidarity.”

What is becoming obvious is that CDCr is doing everything in their power to alienate family members and loved ones from visiting even though outside support and family reunification play a major role in rehabilitation.

To stop CDCr from strip searching prison visitors, in addition to submitting comments, everyone is urged to sign the petition described here:

by Kenneth E. Hartman

Every now and then, the prison system lets the mask of respectability and reason slip off enough to see their real face, the face of the oppressor, of the thug in jack boots, of the truth.

Out here in California, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has implemented a new policy of screening visitors as they come onto the grounds. Randomly selected visitors are compelled to provide a swab that is then scanned for the trace presence of a variety of drugs.

Every now and then, the prison system lets the mask of respectability and reason slip off enough to see their real face, the face of the oppressor, of the thug in jack boots, of the truth.

Their machine tests in the parts per billion range, is notoriously prone to false positives, and it’s well known that any number of everyday items – like currency, like gas station pumps, like ATMs – are likely contaminated by prohibited substances. Regardless, if a visitor is found to be positive, they must either leave, accept a noncontact, behind-the-glass visit or, if they want a contact visit, submit to a fully naked strip search.

To be clear, this means the visitor must remove all of their clothing including underwear. They must bend over and expose their rectum to visual examination. Women must then squat over a mirror placed on the ground between their legs to expose their genitalia.

It is a grotesque, degrading and traumatizing experience. It is fundamentally dehumanizing. When performed on captured populations in war zones, it is considered by many experts to be a war crime.

If a visitor is found to be positive, they must either leave, accept a noncontact, behind-the-glass visit or, if they want a contact visit, submit to a fully naked strip search.

In the past few weeks, a 77-year-old woman who could not speak English and who was denied a translator submitted to a strip search because she was led to believe she would never see her son again if she declined. Although this poor woman recently had knee replacement surgery, she was ordered to squat naked, repeatedly, over a mirror obviously in pain.

In another instance, a young woman declined and was sent home. The next weekend, desperate to hold her husband, she was advised that the punishment would now be doubled to two strip searches. Another woman, in the space of one hour, tested positive four times for four different things.

The visitor must remove all of their clothing including underwear. They must bend over and expose their rectum to visual examination. Women must then squat over a mirror placed on the ground between their legs to expose their genitalia.

The system claims all of this abuse is needed to stop the flow of drugs into the prisons. But only visitors have to submit to a strip search. All others entering are only subject to an airport type pat-down search.

In other words, only our visitors are forced to be violated in order to give us a hug. This is fundamentally wrong, unfair and outrageous by any ethical measure.

Of course the deeper truth is prison administrators would like to do away with contact visiting all together. They’ve always seen it as an irritant, at least. Our families and friends are usually the only people willing to speak up on our behalf.

Only visitors have to submit to a strip search. All others entering are only subject to an airport type pat-down search.

Taking away contact visiting is just another way to drive our loved ones away from us and away from this ugly reality.

As to the drug problem that, for some inexplicable reason, calls for our visitors, and only our visitors, to be abused, it’s only inside the prisons that the discredited notion of a war on drugs continues unchecked. Someone needs to clue the prison system into the new reality: The war is over; drugs won, and the punitive approach has been discarded in favor of treatment – something they still don’t do!

I learned a long time ago that the only thing the prison system responds to is public pressure. They have to be reminded that the prisons are public entities, and the public has a say in how they’re run.

Taking away contact visiting is just another way to drive our loved ones away from us and away from this ugly reality.

So, if you think strip searching old ladies trying to see their sons is unreasonable, if you think scapegoating visitors is unfair, I urge you to sign our online petition to Gov. Brown.

Go to Change.org to “Stop Strip Searching My Mom!“ and sign on. And please urge all of your friends and family to do the same thing. Change.org: “Stop Strip Searching My Mom!

Thanks for your help!

If you think strip searching old ladies trying to see their sons is unreasonable, if you think scapegoating visitors is unfair, I urge you to sign our online petition to Gov. Brown.

This is Kenneth E. Hartman, executive director of The Other Death Penalty Project, from inside California’s prison system.

Send our brother some love and light: Kenneth E. Hartman, C-19449, CSP-LAC A2-217L, P.O. Box 4430, Lancaster, CA 93539-4430.