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Colorado Women's Prison Ends "Labia Lift" Search Policy

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September 28, 2010

Last month, we told you about a horrifying method of strip-searching prisoners for contraband at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF). It required prisoners to hold open their labia as correctional officers, “sometimes using a flashlight, sometimes positioning their faces only inches away from a prisoner’s genitals, conduct an inspection. Reports even indicate that some prisoners have been forced to pull back the skin of their clitorises.”

On Friday, Colorado prison officials announced they’ve abandoned the “labia lift” procedure. (Alan Prendergast at Denver’s Westword blog called them “gynecological searches.”)

You might wonder what could possibly warrant such an intrusive search. The answer would be: not much. That’s right: these searches were conducted even when prison guards had no particular reason to suspect a prisoner was concealing contraband.

So in August, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and the ACLU of Colorado sent a letter (PDF) to Ari Zavaras, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, asking him to reconsider this new procedure, and informing him that these searches raised concerns under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments.

The “labia lift” searches are also especially traumatizing for female prisoners who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Women in the DWCF reported avoiding meeting with family, friends or even their attorneys to avoid the horrifying strip-search with the labia lift.

So, we commend Zavaras and the state Department of Corrections. As Prendergast wrote, “[L]ife just got a little less nasty for female inmates at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility…”

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