Strip Searches of Female Visitors on Their Menstrual Period Addressed at CCA Shareholder Meeting
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, held its annual shareholder meeting in Nashville, Tennessee on May 14, 2015. It was likely the first time that the words “vagina,” “penises” and “menses” have been mentioned during a corporate shareholder meeting.
In January 2015, a federal lawsuit was filed against CCA by a woman who visited a prisoner at the company’s South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Clifton, Tennessee. The visitor, identified only as Jane Doe, said guards had “forced her to expose her genitals to prove she was menstruating when she tried to take a sanitary napkin into the facility,” the Associated Press reported.
The suit was later amended to include another SCCF visitor who alleged she had to endure a similar search by CCA guards to prove she was on her period, while in the presence of her minor children.
Apparently it was CCA’s policy to require women visitors who were menstruating to provide evidence they were on their period. This was accomplished by making them remove or change their tampons or pads in the presence of a female guard, who would visually inspect their genitals. If they refused to consent to such searches they could be banned from future visits. According to the lawsuit, the searches were conducted at SCCF as part of a “standard policy” without reasonable suspicion.
“Plaintiff should not be forced to make the intolerable choice between abstaining from visiting an inmate in prison because she is on her period and visiting the prison with the risk of being subjected to another humiliating and degrading search of her exposed genitalia,” the complaint stated.
During CCA’s shareholder meeting, Monte McCoin, an activist shareholder who owns one share of stock, addressed the company’s board members.
“I understand that the corrections industry is a male-dominated profession, as demonstrated by the majority of men in this room and the fact that only two of CCA’s 12 board members are women,” she stated. “What I do not understand is CCA’s misogynistic approach to women visitors at the South Central Correctional Facility here in Tennessee.”
She added: “In a simple biology lesson that some men apparently need to learn, women bleed from their vaginas: it is normal and natural and not a security concern. If women visitors want to smuggle contraband in their vaginas, they do not need tampons or sanitary pads to do so. CCA’s rationale that a visitor’s feminine hygiene products are detrimental to the safety and security of a correctional facility is absurd.”
McCoin noted that female CCA employees are not required to undergo such searches “when they report to work during their menses.” Further, “neither male visitors nor employees at South Central are routinely required to undergo visual rectal exams or an inspection of their penises to see if they’re smuggling contraband.”
In response to these comments, CCA executive vice president (and former Bureau of Prisons director) Harley G. Lappin stated that CCA had stopped requiring visual genital inspections of female visitors on their period “immediately” – presumably meaning immediately after the company was served with the lawsuit, which resulted in news articles published by the Associated Press and Nashville Scene.
The suit remains pending; the women visitors at SCCF who were subjected to the invasive searches are represented by attorneys Tricia Herzfeld and William P. York II with Ozment Law. See: Doe v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Tenn.), Case No. 3:15-cv-00068.
Also attending the shareholder meeting was PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who owns a small amount of CCA stock. His shareholder resolution filed with the company – to require CCA to spend 5% of its net income each year on rehabilitative and reentry programs, above what the company already spends – was rejected by the Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2015 after CCA filed an objection. Thus, the resolution was not presented for a vote at the shareholder meeting. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.48].
During the meeting, Friedmann questioned CCA officials about the company’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which houses immigrant families and children, noting that CCA’s T. Don Hutto facility, which previously housed a similar population, had been found in violation of a settlement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement with respect to conditions of confinement. [See: PLN, Jan. 2008, p.20].
He also noted that while CCA’s website for the South Texas Family Residential Center includes “some lovely artistic drawings of the inside of the facility that show clean open spaces, bowls of fruit, teddy bears, a large library and classrooms with computer terminals,” those were only illustrations and there are “no photos of the inside of the facility, so the public cannot see what the actual conditions look like.”
Several other activists also attended the shareholder meeting, including Rebecca Stelle with Strength to Love, a project of the Church of Christ, Right Now in Washington, D.C., and Mary Baudouin with the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province, which is trying to get CCA to adopt a meaningful human rights policy that includes independent oversight.
Sources: Nashville Scene, Associated Press, press release by Ozment Law (Jan. 22, 2015)
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