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Female Attorneys Denied Access to Clients at Missouri Jail Due to Bras

by Ed Lyon

As of May 2019, a new policy at the Jackson County Detention Center in Missouri requires female attorneys to remove any brassieres with metal underwires before passing through a metal detector in order to gain access to the jail for client meetings. The bra may not then be put back on, though a new undergarment in an unopened package may be screened so the attorney need not meet with her client braless.

An open letter to Sheriff Darryl Forté, signed by almost 100 criminal defense attorneys, said the new policy presented an “unreasonable and unnecessary” interference with client access. Female lawyers and their supporters, 74 in all, staged a protest of the policy in front of the courthouse on June 12, 2019, chanting “We need support!”

“This could have a chilling effect on the hiring of female attorneys in the county,” said attorney Tracy Spradlin.

Spradlin and fellow lawyer Molly Hastings said Sheriff Forté failed to show up for a meeting they had set weeks before the protest was staged.

“This is something that could be corrected immediately, with a secondary security policy that we can all agree on, with ideas that we have all suggested that have fallen on deaf ears,” said Hastings. “The resistance to resolution is what’s so baffling to me.”

After the initial outcry, Forté had implemented a policy allowing attorneys non-contact visits with their clients. But federal public defender Carie Allen counted 19 Missouri prisons that she’d entered while wearing an underwire bra, including the Potosi Correctional Center, a maximum-security facility.

“This is not normal,” she said. “I have represented death row inmates while wearing an underwire bra.”

Charlotte Hardin, a 20-year veteran employee of the jail, was placed on indefinite leave after she removed her underwire bra and placed it in an X-ray machine in June 2019. Staff said undergarments could not be X-rayed. The following month her attorney, Katherine Myers, filed sex discrimination and retaliation claims with the state Commission on Human Rights and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“This is not just an attorney problem, this is a female issue,” Myers insisted.

Meeting with county lawmakers while protesters stood outside the courthouse, Sheriff Forté and his corrections director, Diane Turner, argued that dangerous contraband and sharp objects are easy to conceal in bras – a threat they adamantly maintained could not be countered with a handheld metal detector or pat-down searches. But lawmakers were skeptical.

First District Rep. Jalen Anderson pointed out there were other issues at the jail, like staff wages and the need for better facilities, that were much more important than what kind of bras attorneys wear.

Rep. Dan Tarwater of the Fourth District said the policy made no sense to him, while a group led by Crystal Williams, the at-large representative for the Second District, urged a quick resolution to the problem prior to costly, protracted litigation.

Third District Rep. Charlie Franklin expressed consternation because “it doesn’t appear that the sheriff’s office is interested in any compromise, period.”

Referring to the section of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees criminal defendants the right to legal counsel, Tony Miller, the at-large representative for the Third District, said, “The Sixth Amendment is a serious thing that should not be sacrificed for the illusion of security.”

But Turner continued her staunch defense of the policy, noting that “every inmate is strip-searched after having a contact visit with an attorney” – though she failed to explain how that search wouldn’t obviate the need to prevent attorneys from wearing underwire bras.

An attempt to implement a similar policy occurred in 2015 at the Cumberland County jail in Portland, Maine. After enough female attorneys complained, the sheriff revised the metal-detection policy concerning underwire bras, and female attorneys may now wear them to and from the jail and during client interviews without having to remove them. A policy restricting underwire bras worn by visitors was rescinded at the Maine State Prison in 2017. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.27].

Meanwhile, although Sheriff Forté has not cited any cases where contraband was smuggled into the jail in an attorney’s bra, he remains determined not to alter the policy.

“We’re not going to change our security because we care about our people,” he said. Those people, however, apparently do not include female attorneys. 

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Sources: kansascity.com, abovethelaw.com, kcur.org, womenshealthmag.com, kmbc.com