A U.S. District Court judge has ordered that guidelines for strip searches of female prisoners at D.C. holding facilities be extended indefinitely after the District showed "an obvious reluctance to comply" with parts of a three-year-old court order on the searches.
The extension order by Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. stems from a 1981 lawsuit filed by four women, including Mary Morgan, the wife of pediatrician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock, who were forced to submit to strip searches at the D.C. Jail after they were arrested during a peaceful demonstration at the White House.
Under an agreement reached in that suit, the city ended its policy of routinely requiring strip searches for women arrested and held overnight and agreed to use such searches only if police or guards suspect that women are hiding weapons, contraband or evidence of a crime.
The city agreed to keep written logs on the searches for a period of three years. However, when the order was to expire in July 1984, Robinson extended it for a year after a review of the logs showed that they were not detailed enough.
Court papers filed this fall by Nina Kraut, an attorney in the case, said that because of crowding at the D.C. Jail, women prisoners were no longer held there overnight pending arraignment but were being held at the central cell block at D.C. police headquarters, where the logs were not being kept.
Attorneys for the city argued that the 1981 and 1984 orders applied only to the D.C. Jail.
"To the contrary," Robinson wrote in ordering the indefinite extension, "the order applies now and was intended to apply to all female cases handled by the D.C. police at any facility utilized by the police for holding or housing female police cases."
He ordered that the logs be made available for inspection by defendants' attorneys on a monthly basis.