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New California Law Bans Male Prison Guards from Pat-Searching Female Prisoners

by Scott Grammer

On August 20, 2018, then-California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2550, which prohibits male prison guards from going into areas where female prisoners are often undressed, such as showers, medical treatment areas and restrooms, when “there is a female correctional officer who can resolve the situation in a safe and timely manner” without the assistance of male guards. 

The bill also requires prison staff of the opposite gender to announce their presence when entering prisoner housing units. Perhaps most importantly, it bans male prison guards from conducting pat-down searches of female prisoners or viewing them when they are not fully dressed. There are exemptions for emergencies when female guards are not available, and when female prisoners are at risk of escape or harming themselves or others.

The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “Women who are incarcerated often have very high rates of past traumatic experiences, with 86% of women in jails and prisons having reported being survivors of past sexual violence and 77% having reported being survivors of partner violence yet in many states male guards can strip search women and supervise them in showers and bathrooms,” Weber said. “This bill aims to restore dignity to incarcerated women and reduce any further trauma by holding correctional officers accountable.” 

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest, summarizing the bill, noted that “[e]xisting law requires the department, when establishing inmate classifications and housing assignment procedures, to take into account risk factors that can lead to inmates and wards becoming the target of sexual victimization,” and that “[t]he bill would require documentation of a male correctional officer conducting a pat down search or entering a prohibited area within 3 days of the incident and would require that the documentation to be reviewed [sic] by the warden and retained.” 



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