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Transparent Jumpsuit for Prison Transport May Violate Eighth Amendment

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held last year that a prisoner stated a claim when he alleged he was forced to wear a see-through jumpsuit that exposed his genitals and buttocks while being moved from a county jail to prison.

After being convicted and sentenced for violating Illinois’ armed habitual criminal statute, Marshall King was transferred from the Livingston County Jail (LCJ).

Prior to his departure, King claimed he was strip-searched and forced to change into a jumpsuit that visually exposed his genitals and buttocks, as he was not allowed any underwear. The defendants denied the garment was transparent, but admitted it was “less than opaque.”

King’s federal lawsuit alleged Fourth and Eighth Amendment violations. Upon initial screening, the district court held the Eighth Amendment claim could not proceed, but the Fourth Amendment claim could. In response to a summary judgment motion, the court dismissed the latter claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies at the jail.

On review, the Seventh Circuit held that once King was transferred from LCJ, the jail’s administrative remedy process was no longer available to challenge treatment during the transfer. As such, the failure to exhaust administrative remedies could not be a barrier to King’s claim.

The Court of Appeals further held that King stated an Eighth Amendment claim, for he complained he was degraded and humiliated by being transported in a see-through jumpsuit that left him exposed in front of other prisoners and guards of both genders. “Such compelled and prolonged nudity seems to be, for present purposes, analogous to a lengthy strip-search,” the Court wrote.

The Seventh Circuit also found King’s allegations indicated there was no legitimate reason for the transparent jumpsuit policy. “Detainees arriving at the [prison] intake facility from other jails were not wearing similar garments, which at least tends to suggest that such clothing is not necessary for safe and secure penal transfers,” the appellate court noted. “Moreover, King was strip-searched before and after his transfer, and he remained shackled and under surveillance throughout.” Those facts, the Court of Appeals held, “raise at least the possibility that the policy was driven by a desire to humiliate or harass.”

“The jumpsuit’s actual appearance remains a mystery at this point because the defendants have so far resisted King’s discovery requests,” the Court added.

Having found a viable Eighth Amendment claim, the appellate court then considered King’s Fourth Amendment claim. That claim should have been dismissed “on the merits rather than for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.” Prisoners retain no right to privacy, and King did not allege any intrusion into his body; hence, a Fourth Amendment claim was not stated.

The district court’s order was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. See: King v. McCarthy, 781 F.3d 889 (7th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

King v. McCarthy