Strip Searching
Home Contents About the Coalition Links

Prison NSP
Prison Objectives
Recent Forums
Report Card
Strip Searching

A-G claims & rebuttal
Strip Searching Brief


Strip Search: a humiliating and abusive practice

In the last sitting week before the election in October 2008, the Government hurried legislation through the Legislative Assembly to expand the power to strip search detainees in the ACT. ACT Corrections will now be permitted to strip search people when it considers it “prudent” to do so. Under the law as it stood Corrections could strip search only when there was a suspicion on reasonable grounds that the person concerned was concealing contraband.

 Strip searching is demeaning and psychologically damaging, particularly for women detainees who typically have experienced sexual abuse as children and already suffer mental health problems. The Government moved the amendment in spite of its acknowledgement of the harm it causes:

 “We are aware,” the Attorney-General told the Assembly, “of the humiliating nature of a strip search; we are aware of the intrusiveness; we are aware of the psychological impact that it can have on a detainee who is regularly subjected to such a search.”

 The Government justified the amendment on security grounds and, of all reasons, on the grounds of its duty of care to prisoners. However, on the best available information strip searching is ineffective in preventing drugs, its main target, from entering prisons. Effectively the legislation legalises sexual assault on vulnerable human beings within its care.

 Help stop this harmful and humiliating practice.

 Make your views known to your local member and others contesting the coming election. Click here for a list of members.

 Write a letter to the Canberra Times ( max 250 words.

 Inform your friends about what is being done and what it involves.

The Women and Prison Group and the Corrections Coalition held a forum on Monday 
29 September 2008 with Carmel Wise of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Jack 
Dalby of Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (SAMSA) and Dr Sandi 
Plummer, clinical psychologist. [Audio of speeches and questions.] Here are some of the things that were said:

"The Corrections Management (Amendment) Bill 2008 allows for strip searching. 
What this means is that your body is no longer your own. It means that without 
your consent you can be unclothed, have your body and your clothes searched. It 
means that without your consent you are expected to comply and if you don't 
comply then the corrections officer has the authority to touch your body and 
make you comply" (Carmel Wise).

"It would be incorrect for you to assume that a strip search would be a one off 
incident. Strip searches happen when you go to or from court, when you have been 
out of a corrective officer's supervision for a period of time and even after 
you have been visited by family and/or friends" (Carmel Wise).

"To set up something, an essential part of which re-traumatises a huge proportion 
of your population (our estimate is up to half the guys who are in there) is 
just going to make the rehabilitative purpose of incarceration (if there really 
is one) almost impossible to achieve" (Jack Dalby)

"What we are saying in this type of legislation is that an attitude of 
dehumanizing, an attitude of humiliation is OK. What we're doing is saying that 
it's OK to train people to humiliate and dehumanize other people. What we're 
saying is that part of the legal system is not about rehabilitation but is about 
power over for particular purposes" (Dr Plummer).

"I was one of the women who brought down the strip searching stats because I 
refused visitors. I refused to go out for medicals anywhere. I refused to do 
many other so called educational programs so I could not be strip searched for 
those reasons" (A member of the Woman and Prison Group).

"So that data is there [that strip searching] does have an impact on people's 
attitudes. Often what the studies suggest is that the prison guards become more 
depersonalized. In other words they begin to think of the individuals that they 
are dealing with as less and less people and more and more objects" (Dr Plummer).

"The impression that one is getting is that it is the prison officer's union 
which is opposing the original legislation passed last year that required a 
reasonable suspicion and I am wondering why it is, if that is the case" 

"Providing some sort of support after the strip search . . . is really important 
for some individuals" (Dr Plummer).


Here is how the ACT Legislative Assembly debated the issue (after downloading the PDF file go to page P3815) 

 Audio of Address by Debbie Kilroy, OAM, President of Sisters Inside at the ACTCOSS Conference on 5 September 

Media release "Legislative Assembly authorises routine sexual abuse in prison"

 Strip searching: background briefing

Rebuttal of arguments used by the Attorney-General in response to criticisms of the legislation to allow routine strip searching 

“Jail with no drugs or no rights?” Article in the Canberra Times