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Mass Pennsylvania Prisoner Strip Search Nets Each Prisoner $1,000

Pennsylvania prison officials have agreed to pay twenty prisoners $1,000 each to settle a claim that they were illegally strip-searched. The complaint in the action concerned an incident that occurred on September 14, 2000, at State Correctional Institution at Albion.

That medium security prison was the site of “mass visual strip searches” conducted on prisoners in the outdoor exercise yard. The prisoners were strip-searched, according to the complaint, “without reasonable suspicion that they had a weapon, drugs, or any other kind of prison contraband either on or in their bodies.” Even if there was a legitimate penological need, the response was exaggerated.

The complaint charged the strip searches were “conducted in a needlessly humiliating manner.” Because they were conducted in a public setting that required the prisoners to “gratuitously expose” their naked bodies “in open view of numerous fellow prisoners and prison employees who were in the area at the time,” they violated the Fourth Amendment.

To avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation, the parties agreed to settle the matter “amicably.” The prisoner plaintiffs were: Johnuall Bender, Kevin Columbo, Scott Dalton, Timothy Dodge, Lafayette Edmond, Nicholas Ellerbee, Juan Green, Michael Hoagland, Oliver Jackson, Matthew Jenkins, Jerome Johnson, Sr., Maurice Johnson, Daniel Kemp, Richard Kraft, Edward Miller, Ning Yuan, Richard Rush, Keith Alexander, Dennis Williams, and Paul Ambrose.

Each of those prisoners, and their legal counsel—Institutional Law Project—will receive $1,000 to settle the matter. One of the prisoners is also to receive three counseling sessions at Mercy Behavioral Health. The defendants denied liability as part of the settlement. See: Bender v. Harlow, USDC, W.D. Pennsylvania, Case No: 05-290.

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Related legal case

Bender v. Harlow