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Children Strip-Searched While Touring DC Jail

In April and May 2001, school children were strip searched while touring a jail in Washington, D.C. A lawsuit seeking $4 million for each of six girls and one boy is forthcoming.

D.C. schools routinely schedule these tours for children with behavioral problems. The goal is to scare them into altering their behavior by showing them what jail life is like. Problems arose, however, when school officials and guards forced the touring children, ages 11 to 15, to submit to strip searches by jail guards.

The strip searches were done in a common area in view of teachers, students, and prisoners. Some of the children reported seeing male prisoners masturbating in nearby cells during the searches.

Evans Middle School counselor Dorothy Simpkins, formerly Dorothy Shepard, arranged the tours and accompanied the children during the tours. Simpkins reportedly requested the stripsearches. A male teacher from the school, Terrence Barker, instructed guards to perform the stripsearches on several male students.

Simpkins denies wrongdoing, and Barker complained that the children had toured the police department and a juvenile detention facility, to no avail. Even so, both have been dismissed by the school.

An unnamed guard who disagreed with the stripsearches complained to Warden Patricia Britton, who did nothing to stop them.

Britton was fired, along with guards Dexter Allen, Jerome West, and Karl White, who were involved in the searches. Shift commander, John E. Pendergraph, received a 30day suspension, and his supervisor, Major Gregory C. Manigault, was suspended for 45 days, for their failure to prevent the searches. Deputy Warden, Donald L. Jones, resigned before being cited for gross negligence for his allowing the searches.

The Director of the Department of Corrections, Odie Washington, characterized the searches as the result of "extremely poor judgment, abuse of authority, and a clear violation of department policy." West, one of the fired guards, claimed that the searches were for the children's own benefit, a form of "tough love." The union representing D.C. guards claims that those fired were being used as "scapegoats," and the union plans to seek their reinstatement.

Middle School students will no longer take part in the tours, but high school and college students will still tour D.C. jails. It is unknown whether they will receive the guards' "tough love" during future tours. The F.B.I. is investigating the searches to determine whether the children's civil rights were violated.

Wayne Cohen, an attorney representing six girls from the Middle School and one boy from Ballou Senior High School who were also stripsearched during a jail tour, says his "clients are very interested in getting answers out." He also said his clients will seek $4 million each in damages.

Sources: ABC News ;The Washington Post ; and The New York Times .

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