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Strip Searched Massachusetts Women Settle Suit for $80,000

On December 12, 1997, the Massachusetts DOC settled a lawsuit filed by women prisoners for a total of $80,000 plus attorney fees. The class action suit was filed in Suffolk county superior court on behalf of 112 female prisoners by Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. In the middle of the night of September 20-21, 1995, 112 women prisoners and pretrial detainees at MCI Framingham were rousted from their beds by masked guards screaming and shouting abuse at them, without any explanation. Sixteen of the women were strip searched in front of dozens of masked guards of both sexes and other prisoners, and ordered to provide urine samples. Some prisoners requested medical attention which was not provided. In the course of searching the prisoners' cells extensive personal property was destroyed. The entire operation was classified as a "training exercise" by the MA DOC. The prisoners' lawsuit claimed the manner of the searches violated their state and federal constitutional rights.

To avoid a hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction the MA DOC entered into a stipulation on November 21, 1995, where it agreed that prison guards would not wear ski masks or other articles to conceal their identities, other than protective gear such as visors or helmets. The DOC agreed that when searching rooms, cells or prisoners at MCI Framingham guards would refrain from deliberate actions intended to inflict severe emotional distress on the prisoners being searched. Absent reasonable suspicion that a prisoner had ingested drugs, no urine tests would be conducted at MCI Framingham between 11 PM and 7 AM. The DOC agreed to provide timely medical attention to prisoners who requested it during searches. The DOC agreed to conduct strip searches and urine tests at the prison "in relative privacy with as much dignity as possible and will not be conducted in the presence of members of the opposite gender or in the presence of staff other than those directly performing the search, except in an emergency." The DOC also agreed that guards performing searches "will not unnecessarily destroy or disrupt inmates' personal or state issued property."

In settling the suit, the MA DOC denied any wrongdoing or liability but agreed to pay the plaintiffs $80,000 in damages, plus attorney fees. The sixteen strip searched prisoners would receive an average damage award of $1,665; the remaining 96 prisoners would receive $555. The settlement leaves the distribution of the damage award to the plaintiffs but specified that no single plaintiff could receive more than $5,000. The stipulation entered into in 1995 is to remain in effect permanently and can be enforced in a separate action by any prisoner imprisoned at MCI Framingham. Readers should note this is an unpublished settlement. Attorney fees have not yet been awarded. The plaintiffs were capably represented by MCLS attorneys Barry Barkow and Lisa Otero. See: Aquino v. DuBois , Suffolk County Superior Court No. 95-6175.

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Related legal case

Aquino v. DuBois