Strip-search policy halted after 8-year-old reportedly told to get naked at Virginia prison

The girl was visiting her father when she was led to believe that if she didn't remove her clothes she wouldn't be able to see him, according to reports.
Image; Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn
The entrance sign to the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va. on May 3, 2011.Steve Helber / AP file

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By Phil Helsel

Virginia's governor on Friday ordered the suspension of a Department of Corrections policy after an 8-year-old was reportedly strip-searched when attempting to visit her father in prison last month.

"I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as Governor, but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, tweeted Friday.

He said that he had 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."

On Nov. 24, a minor was strip-searched at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn by a Department of Corrections employee, the department's communications director confirmed in a statement.

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The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that the minor was an 8-year-old girl, accompanied by her father’s girlfriend, and that they were led to believe that refusing the search would result in the girl's not being allowed to see her father.

Lisa Kinney, the Corrections Department's communications director, said in a statement that the strip search violated policy, as the staff member who approved it did not have that authority. She called it "deeply troubling" and said it "represents a breach in our protocol."

"We sincerely apologize to this child and her family," Kinney said, adding that the department is taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.

The girl’s mother told The Virginian-Pilot that her daughter "was traumatized."

Both the girl and her father's girlfriend were made to remove all their clothes and searched, and their car was examined before they were allowed to have a non-contact visit with the child's father, The Virginian-Pilot reported. No contraband was found.

The girlfriend told the newspaper that the search was ordered after a dog singled her out and that guards initially said the child would not need to be searched but reversed the decision after consulting with a captain.

The girl's mother plans on filing a lawsuit, the newspaper reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia tweeted that Northam was right to suspend the policy.

"We're pleased that the government is taking steps to protect children from invasive, humiliating strip searches so that this never happens again to another child," the civil liberties group said.

Dillwyn is a town of around 500 around 35 miles south of Charlottesville.