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8-year-old strip searched at prison

Gov. Ralph S. Northam has temporarily suspended a policy allowing for the strip search of minors in Virginia prisons following the strip search of an 8-year-old girl at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn on Nov. 24. Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials say that the staff member who authorized the search didn’t have the authority to do so and an investigation is underway.

“Strip search of a minor is extremely rare, and in this case Department procedures weren’t followed,” said VDOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney in a statement to The Herald.

Kinney explained that protocol states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve of the strip search of a minor, and that the adult visitor accompanying the child who signed the consent form for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t actually the minor’s parent or legal guardian.

“The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so. We take this matter very seriously and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible … The incident is deeply troubling and represents a breech in our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family.”

Northam was troubled by the reports of the strip search of the young girl. His statement regarding the issue is as follows:

“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as governor, but as a pediatrician and a dad. I’ve directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the Department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures.”

Kinney added that strip search policies for visitors to prisons are in place to keep offenders, visitors and staff as safe as possible by reducing the contraband smuggled into state prisons, such as drugs, cell phones or weapons. She explained that strip searches are requested when a K-9 has alerted on a visitor, and that visitors are always free to deny the strip search request and leave the facility.