Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jail Requiring Strip Searches in Drug Crackdown Inmates Examined after Meeting with Their Attorneys

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jail Requiring Strip Searches in Drug Crackdown Inmates Examined after Meeting with Their Attorneys

Article excerpt

Allegheny County Jail inmates are now being strip searched each time they meet with their attorneys in a procedure that began in January as jail officials tried to crack down on the flow of synthetic drugs into the jail.

The mandatory strip searches started days after 15 jail employees were sickened by airborne chemical substances believed to be synthetic marijuana and after jail officials brought in drug-sniffing dogs from the state to search the jail, inmates and employees for contraband Jan. 15 and 16.

Authorities said at the time that chemical-soaked papers were being smuggled into the jail both through general inmate mail and disguised as legal paperwork.

Warden Orlando Harper would not say Wednesday whether jail officials believe attorneys are personally delivering chemical-soaked papers to inmates during visits, and he would not answer questions about the strip searches, saying he would "not disclose information or detail related to security of the facility."

Defense attorneys and two sources within the jail confirmed the mandatory strip searches, which they said occur after inmates leave attorney meetings and before they return to their cells.

During strip searches, inmates remove all of their clothing and a corrections officer checks under their feet and armpits, between their buttocks, and around their genitals.

In addition to the strip searches, attorneys must now alert the jail if they have legal materials with them and if they intend to leave those materials with an inmate, according to an email viewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After the visit, the correctional officer who conducts the strip search is required to check any paperwork for contraband, in particular looking for paper with stains, paper that looks like it was wet and has dried, and paper that smells like perfume or cotton candy.

Inmates must also have prior approval to bring legal documents to attorney visits.However, as recently as this week, an inmate was forbidden to bring his legal paperwork to a meeting with a public defender, forcing the attorney to file for a postponement in his homicide trial.

The jail does not keep an ongoing count of attorney visits, but attorneys do sign in and out; Warden Harper said there were 26 attorney visits Tuesday.

Across-the-board strip searches could land the jail in legal hot water by infringing on inmates' rights, said Angus Love, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to inmates.

"You cannot do blanket strip searches without reasonable suspicion," he said. "You have to have something to go on. Doing it after an attorney visit is sort of in between. It's a gray area."

Generally, courts have ruled that authorities can strip search both individuals and groups when there is reasonable suspicion of contraband, he said. …

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