People are understandably upset after a recent report revealed that an 8-year-old girl was reportedly strip-searched by Virginia corrections officials after being told she wouldn’t be allowed to see her dad if she refused.
The girl was stripped naked by Virginia Department of Corrections staff, according to Virginian Pilot. Apparently, state policy allows for such searches at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, which is about 60 miles west of Richmond, and other state DOC prisons.
The child was accompanied by her father’s girlfriend, who is not her legal guardian. If they refused to be searched, they could have been banned from the prison.
“That’s outrageous,” said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. “It’s generally regarded in the criminal justice field that you do not strip search young children. … I mean most adults, certainly most adults who work in the field of child welfare would know better, that this is an act of child abuse.”
As of Friday morning, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam suspended the policy and now things might get real for the prison staff as it was revealed by the DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney, that the staff member who approved the search of the girl did not have that authority. “It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible,” Kinney wrote in an email.
The child’s mother said the strip search has haunted her daughter, who already suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD.
“She’s a minor, she’s a girl. She was traumatized,” her mother said. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”
The girl’s mother added that she has missed school because of it. Just after the visit, the girl texted her mom in shock.
“Hey Mom, am so mad the jail had to strip me with all of my clothes off this doesn’t make no sinc” the girl texted.
“Did they make you take all of your clothes off,” her mother texted back just before calling her daughter.
“Yes all of my clothes off,” she responded.
The visit to Buckingham Correctional Center took place on November 24th, just a few days before Thanksgiving. Diamond Peerman, who is the girfriend of the 8-year-old’s father, drove the girl the two-and-a-half hours from Hampton.
They stood in line with other visitors, and were circled by a Virginia DOC dog trained to sniff out drugs and other contraband. The dog singled out Peerman, requiring that she be strip searched.
Peerman asked if the child would need to be searched, too. Initially prison guards told her no, but after consulting with a captain, that decision was reversed, according to Peerman.
Peerman said that when she was told the girl must strip and realized her lack of options, she cried. The child looked at her and asked what being strip searched meant.
“I told her, that means you have to take all of your clothes off or you’re not going to be able to see your dad,” Peerman said. “That’s when she started crying.”
Peerman added that she told the DOC captain and other corrections officers that she was not the girl’s legal guardian. They told her she had to sign the consent form anyway.
“Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t the minor’s parent or legal guardian,” Kinney said in the email. “The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so. We take this matter very seriously and as mentioned above will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.”
Two female correctional officers took them to a bathroom to be searched. First Peerman was searched — taking all of her clothes off before being told to bend over and cough. Then the girl was asked to do the same.
One of the corrections officers reportedly asked, “How old are you, sweetheart?”
“I just looked at her and I’m like, ‘That’s not even appropriate to be asking her right now,’ ” Peerman said. “Why would you ask that when she’s naked?”
The 8-year-old’s mother said her daughter misses her dad but she won’t be visiting him anymore because of how she was treated.
“Her and her dad have a good relationship … because she gets to go see him every weekend,” the mother said. “But, at the same time, she went through something that traumatized her. I’m not sending her back there.”