By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that bare-body inspections - otherwise known as strip searches - of all inmates entering the general population of a jail are permissible.
This means that even inmates entering jail for minor offenses can be strip searched. It would apply, for example, to New York City drug possession charges. Indeed, it would even apply to someone arrested for traffic violations, as long that person is placed at least temporarily in a jail's general population.
The name of the Supreme Court case is Florence v. Burlington County. Albert Florence was arrested for failing to pay a fine that he had already paid. He was pulled over on a public highway, and later said he believed he was targeted because he was an African-American man driving an expensive car.
After his arrest, Florence was subjected to two strip searches in two different jails over a six-day period. The experience led to deep feelings of fear and humiliation.
The fear is understandable, given the evidence of sexual abuse and assault behind bars. Such abuse often starts during strip searches, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The type of strip search upheld by the Supreme Court is supposed to be limited to visual inspection. It does not include touching the inmate or making abusive gestures. The data on sexual assault in jail, however, suggests that strip searches often go far beyond visual inspection.
Legal commentators point out that the Court's ruling does not address such issues as whether strip searches can be done on people in small holding cells, prior to bail determination.
Source: "The Supreme Court's Decision on Strip Searches Will Make Jails More Dangerous," Lovisa Stannow, Huffington Post, 4-18-12