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Canadian Court Awards Female Prisoner $10,000 For Illegal Search
$10,000 to a female prisoner who was subjected to an illegal body cavity
search at the Grand Valley women's prison.
Upon returning to Grand Valley after spending three days in a halfway house
in October 2003, prisoner Tracy Curry was examined by the prison's drug
dog. The dog behaved as if Curry was carrying drugs. Over her protests,
Curry, 31, was strip searched and placed in a supervised area for several
hours; no drugs were found. Curry later consented to a body cavity search
and pelvic x-rays, which were performed at St. Mary's hospital. Again no
drugs were found. Even so, when Curry was returned to prison the drug dog
again indicated she was carrying drugs. She was again strip searched and
placed overnight in a "dry cell"--a cage with no plumbing, where guards
could check her excretement for drugs.
Curry sued alleging she was illegally strip searched and that she had
signed the consent form under duress because guards had threatened to place
her in a dry cell--the very place she ended up anyway.
In 1994, the former Prison for Women was dismantled after allegations of
illegal strip searches surfaced. Five regional prisons, including Grand
Valley, were set up in its place. As a consequence, prison staff are now
required to submit a written request to the warden and obtain the person's
consent before performing a body cavity search.
Judge Michel Beaudry said in his decision that Curry also had the right to
speak to an attorney. Prison officials' assertion that guards were under no
obligation to inform Curry of her right to counsel was "downright
unreasonable," Beaudry said. "A cavity search is one of the most invasive
and humiliating procedures a human being can be subjected to, and everyone
should have the right to seek legal advice before consenting to it."
Judge Beaudry also found that Curry's consent to the pelvic x-rays and body
cavity search had been coerced and believed her testimony over that of two
guards. Beaudry said it was "baffling" how guards could think Curry had
somehow obtained drugs during her supervised transport from the hospital
back to the prison, and added that the decision to subject her to another
dog search was an "overzealous and rigid adherence to procedure" which
John Hill, Curry's attorney, said Beaudry's ruling means that prison
officials have to "start using some common sense" and stop "immediately
jumping to the conclusion that a person is guilty." Curry is serving a life
sentence for suffocating her 82 year old grandmother with a pillow in 1996.
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