With the public distracted by their debate about the health care laws, the Supreme Court approved 5-4 that officials may strip-search “people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.” The reasoning given for the choice was that nobody is more aware of the goings-on in prisons than correctional officials themselves, who not only have smuggling and contraband to worry about but also health issues and “issues about gang affiliations” (which I assume means tattoos).
The case arose from an incident in New Jersey in which a man was arrested after his wife was pulled over for speeding and it was discovered that he had an outstanding warrant due to an unpaid fine. He spent a week in two jails in the country and was strip-searched twice.
This ruling makes little sense to me, especially considering its provision that officials need not have any suspicion of contraband. The Fourth Amendment reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” There is a clear prohibition of searches for which there is no evidence – and the letter of this law seems to be blatantly ignoring this basic American right. I understand that officials want to maintain the safety of the nation’s prisons (oxymoronic as “prison safety” may seem) but forcing a man to strip down and expose himself in various poses because he had an unpaid ticket is utterly absurd.
Another fact stated by one of the judges is that 13 million people are admitted to American jails every year. I just checked the current population, which is 309 million; according to these numbers, 1 in 24 people go to jail every year? Somebody please tell me if my math is wrong, but if it’s not, this is the larger issue at stake. I just read another article noting that California’s three-strike laws have filled the state’s prisons to bursting and driven them to near bankruptcy – the real problem here is that this man in New Jersey had to go to jail because he didn’t pay a ticket (which, incidentally, was incorrect – there was a mistake in the paperwork). I understand the reasoning behind jailing a mass murderer or a serial rapist. Amherst College students don’t pay parking tickets all the time – in the world outside, this is an imprisonable offense, apparently. The logical thing to do is say, “Hey, Huckle, we caught you not paying your tickets. Really, we weren’t looking for you, as your offense was pretty low on our priority list, but now that you fell into our laps thanks to that busted tail-light, we’d like you to pay up, ok?” And then I pay them, and if I don’t have the money, they make me do community service for the town to equal the money I owe. Done. Maybe I get a misdemeanor, but prison time? Come on.
Sending a man to jail for a missed fine is illogical; stripping that man down not once, but twice, in one week is inhumane and unjust – this ruling should be appealed and overturned as soon as possible.