A federal judge recently held that individuals who are subject to strip searches in the Nassau County Correctional Institution must receive $500 per person. It has been estimated that 20,000 people will be eligible for the $500 pay out.
United States District Court Judge Dennis Hurley has taken this action because these individuals were subject to “humiliation and emotional distress“. The lawsuit against Nassau County stemmed from a policy of the Nassau County Correctional Institution to strip search everyone at their facility. The court held that it was unconstitutionally intrusive to force people accused of minor misdemeanors to expose their private parts without some reason to suspect that they are hiding something. The lawsuit was initially brought in 1999.
In the past, Nassau County had taken the position that since 85% of the prisoners were male and the searches were always conducted by officers of the same gender, that the damages are excessive. Nassau County claimed that the officers did not touch the prisoners and the prisoners were only required to be naked for 30-45 seconds.
However, Nassau County did admit that each of the prisoners were forced to spread their buttocks as part of the search. The District Court Judge Hurley disagreed with Nassau County’s position.
In his ruling, he stated that “it is hard to believe that the grievous affront to human dignity occasioned by being subjected to an unwarranted visual body-cavity search would not warrant an award considerably in excess of nominal damages. Nassau County has indicated they will appeal the ruling.