The Legislature wants to throw a giant strip-search party, and way too many people are invited.
The Constitution, however, is not.
Under a bill just adopted by the Assembly and sent to the governor, litterers, loiterers, and others whose jail stay is expected to be only a few minutes or few hours will join the ranks of the strip searched.
Doesn't matter if the cops have one iota of reason to believe that a detained person has contraband. Doesn't matter if the person has been charged with a crime. Doesn't matter if the person is jailed for littering or loitering. Anyone who is expected to be lawfully detained with at least one other person for any amount of time will be subject to strip search. Currently, only those held at least 12 hours are subject to strip search.
The Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association likes the bill because it allows more efficient operations of jails.
"Many counties do not have the capacity to hold multiple individuals for twelve hours prior
to moving them into cells with other incarcerated individuals....The twelve-hour hold provision puts a burden on jail staff to manage limited holding cell space, and the hold potentially compromises safety in the jail," the association said in testimony submitted to the Assembly Committee on Corrections.
The association also argued that allowing strip searches of everyone enhances safety. "Strip searches are conducted to protect the detainee, other inmates, and jail staff. The twelve-hour hold provision limits the ability of law enforcement to ensure the jails are free of dangerous weapons, drugs and disease," it said.
The State Public Defender's Office, however, reminded the committee that the 12-hour limit was put in place during the previous legislative session because of constitutional concerns.
"We respectfully request that the committee consider the ramifications of removing the twelve hour delay
without data to show that it is necessary," Adam Plotkin, legislative liaison for the public defender's office, wrote to the committee. When considered previously, he said, "all available evidence suggested that there was not a significant amount of contraband being taken into jails after arrest of individuals."
Two court cases considered how much contraband was found during strip searches, Plotkin said. In one case, In one, 23,000 strip searches over a four-year period resulted in five instances of contraband found; in the other, 75,000 body cavity searches over five years resulted in 16 instances of contraband discovery.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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