A prison staff member is facing disciplinary action after authorizing the strip search of an 8-year-old girl.
The young girl was visiting her father in a Virginia prison when the strip search occurred. Prison protocol stipulates that a legal guardian or parent must authorize such a search, yet the person who accompanied the girl was neither.
“The incident is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol,” Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, told CNN in a statement. “We sincerely apologize to this child and her family.”
The incident occurred at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dilwyn, Virginia last month. CNN reported that, “The staff member who ordered the search didn’t have the authority to do so and is facing disciplinary action, Kinney said.”
The woman who accompanied the young girl is her father’s girlfriend, according to The Washington Post. From the Post:
Diamond Peerman drove 2½ hours the Sunday before Thanksgiving to take her boyfriend’s 8-year-old daughter to visit him at a state prison in Dillwyn, Va.
When a drug-sniffing dog fixated on the pair, a Buckingham Correctional Center guard told them they had to submit to strip-searches or else they could be banned from the prison, Peerman told The Washington Post. The young girl balked at the idea of removing her clothes in front of the uniformed strangers.
Peerman told The Virginian-Pilot after the encounter that she had to explain to the young girl what the prison officials were asking her to do.
“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 told the outlet. “That’s when she started crying.”
Peerman told the Pilot that she made it clear she was not the girl’s legal guardian but the search was authorized anyway.
Afterwards, the Pilot reported, the young girl texted her mother to tell her what happened:
“Hey Mom, am so mad the jail had to strip me with all of my clothes off this doesn’t make no sinc (sic)” the girl texted.
The names of the girl, her mother and father are being withheld by The Virginian-Pilot because she is a minor and because of the trauma she experienced.
“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.
Her mother told the Pilot after the encounter that her daughter was “traumatized” by the incident and has missed school. Prior to the search, the girl already suffered from bipolar disorder, depression, and ADHD, her mother told the outlet.
Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) policy states, in regards to searches conducted on visitors: “If a visitor refuses to submit to a search, or if a parent or guardian refuses consent for the search of a minor, the individual shall not be searched by force, but shall be denied entry into the facility.”
The Pilot also reported that the drug-sniffing dog actually fixated on Peerman, who asked if the little girl would have to be strip searched as well. Prison officials reportedly told her no at first, but reversed that decision after consulting with a captain.