On December 6, 2109, Governor Ralph Northam suspended a Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) policy that authorized strip searches of minors.
An 8-year-old girl had been subjected to a strip search November 24, 2019, at Buckingham Correctional Center (BCC) in Dillwyn, before authorities allowed the child to visit her father.
“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as governor but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam told a local newspaper. “I’ve directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures.”
Even under then-existing rules, it appears that the incident in question was not allowable.
DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney wrote, “It is deeply troubling and represents a breach of our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible. Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case, the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t the minor’s parent or legal guardian. The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so. We take this matter very seriously and as mentioned above will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.”
Diamond Peerman, the girlfriend of the 8-year-old’s incarcerated father, had accompanied the child on the two-and-a-half-hour road trip from Hampton to the BCC.
At the beginning of the visitation attempt, after the K-9 alert, Peerman asked whether the child would be subjected to a strip search as well as herself. She said prison guards initially said no, but after talking with a captain, that decision was rescinded.
Peerman told the DOC captain and other guards that she was not the child’s legal guardian, but they informed her that she had to sign the consent form anyway.
The child asked Peerman what being strip searched meant and Peerman said, “I told her, that means you have to take all of your clothes off or you’re not going to be able to see your dad. That’s when she started crying.”
Two female guards took Peerman and the child to a bathroom. First, Peerman was strip searched and told to bend over and cough; then, after also being strip searched and told to bend over and cough, the child was slowly handed back her clothes piece by piece, and one of the guards asker her, “How old are you, sweetheart?” Peerman said, “I just looked at her and I’m like, ‘That’s not even appropriate to be asking her right now. Why would you ask that when she’s naked?’”
No contraband was discovered on either Peerman or the child, nor during a search of Peerman’s car. They were eventually allowed to visit the girl’s father but only with glass separating them; no contact visit was allowed.
The child was haunted by the strip search, according to her mother. The 8-year-old already suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD. “She’s a minor, she’s a girl. She was traumatized,” said her mother. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”
Regarding Northam’s ruling, Peerman called it a good first step, “It feels good that they did it but [the strip search] shouldn’t have been done anyway. There’s no reason for them to strip search a child.”
The child’s mother suggested she may file a lawsuit. “The system is really crazy,” she said. “The policy was broken before they made her go through a strip search.”
“Her and her dad have a good relationship ... because she gets to go see him every weekend,” she added. “But at the same time, she went through something that traumatized her. I’m not sending her back there.” Sadly the strip searches of children in prisons and jails are all too common around the U.S. and reflect the dehumanizing nature of the U.S. police state.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login