‘Show me!’ a Prison Guard says to the Menstruating Visitor

IMG_2529Every once in while the disparate worlds I travel in collide.

This week when I was trawling the aggregating criminal justice sites to keep abreast of the news (My 2013 book, Chasing Gideon, is about the failed promise our our right-to-counsel for the poor), I stumbled on a menstruation story.

A news item in the Nashville Scene describes a woman who was visiting someone at a local prison in Clifton, TN. When prison guards found an unopened menstrual pad in her pocket, she told them she was having her period. They made her step into the bathroom, whip down her pants and show them her bleeding crotch, she alleges in court documents–though admittedly not in those exact words. (And this, after she offered what she considered a less-humiliating alternative: peeing in the toilet so they could see her pinkish urine.)

According to the legal complaint which is filed, confusingly, with a date stamp of January 22, 2016, the guards said she either had to submit to the search or forfeit the right to ever visit the prisoner.

She submitted.

But afterwards, she filed suit in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, against the prison, owned and run by a private company called Corrections Corporation of America.

Referred to only as Jane Doe, “[b]ecause of the extremely humiliating and embarrassing nature of the facts alleged in her Complaint,” she is arguing that her constitutional rights have been violated.

According to the complaint: She was deprived of her “rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, equal protection of the laws, and the right against deprivation of liberty and privacy without due process of law.”

Clearly I have to do a little more digging here. I mean, what is the legal precedence here? Do prison guards across the country routinely check women’s vaginas for contraband? We hear about it happening all the time with the prisoners themselves…but is this also true of folks who are just visiting?

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