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VDOC stops strip search of minors

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) says it is putting an end to the practice of strip searching minors who visit state prisons.

The decision comes in the wake of several proposed bills and a statement from Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam prompted by the strip search of an 8-year old girl at Buckingham Correctional Center last November.

“We are continuing to review search procedure policy, per Governor Northam’s directive,” VDOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney said. “The review is ongoing, but the Department has already made the decision to stop the practice of strip searching minors.”

State legislators like Sen. Mark Peake and Sen. Joe Morrissey have proposed bills to limit the search of minors in state prisons.

Peake’s bill proposes searches not be performed on individuals 18 years old or younger. It also requires that visitors will not be barred from future prison visits if they refuse to be searched.

Peake said he first became familiar with the issue after a friend’s wife was visiting BCC in May of 2019. He said when a dog signaled the woman may have something on her that was subject to a search, she was told that if she didn’t submit to a search, she would never again be able to visit anyone at a Virginia prison.

After learning about the strip search of the 8-year-old and several similar cases, he felt compelled to put forth the bill.

Morrissey’s bill prohibits the search of children age 14 and under and also provides that the VDOC may not permanently ban an individual from seeking entrance at a state correctional facility on the basis of a person’s refusal to consent to a strip search.

Morrissey said he felt driven to put forward the bill after several cases involving individuals being strip searched during visits to state prisons, including the 8-year-old girl.

Kinney said while the department’s policy does not include any permanent ban based on non-compliance with strip searches, it is clear there is confusion concerning the subject.

“Anyone who has been incorrectly told they are permanently banned for this reason should reapply for visiting rights through the Department of Corrections website,” Kinney said. “We will quickly and thoroughly review their case.”

Northam was disturbed by the report of the juvenile’s strip search at BCC.

“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,” he said in a statement last December.