The Iowa House has voted to update state policy governing strip searches of both inmates and visitors to city and county jails. Representative Stan Gustafson, a Republican from Cumming, says contraband is becoming commonplace.
“In recent months Iowa sheriffs’ offices being confiscated everything from weapons to illegal substances being carried into the jail,” he says. “Recently in Linn County, a woman carried in a knife.”
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all jail inmates, regardless of the charges they may face, can be strip searched when they’re booked. The bill that passed the House would give Iowa jailers authority to conduct a strip search if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person being booked into jail, or coming into the jail as a visitor, is concealing a weapon or contraband like drugs.
“Safety concerns are at the heart of this bill,” Gustafson says. “…It is the sheriff’s responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment and House File 2174 assists in that duty.”
Gustafson cites a recent incident in Oklahoma. A man booked into a jail on minor charges had a loaded gun and bragged about it to other prisoners. Authorities didn’t know about the gun for 16 hours because the inmate wasn’t strip searched before he was put in a cell.
Last March Woodbury County paid $385,000 to settle three lawsuits filed by women who had been strip searched at the county jail. Federal lawsuits filed by two other women who say they were subjected to excessive force during searches at the Woodbury County Jail are still pending.