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Judge rules against Cook County Jail's strip-search policy

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Gary Marx

In another blow for the troubled Cook County Jail, a federal judge has ruled as unconstitutional the jail's practice of strip-searching male detainees ordered released from custody.

The ruling on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo came a decade after another judge found similar strip-searches of female detainees at the jail were unconstitutional and ended the practice.

Thomas Morrissey, who filed suit on behalf of an estimated 150,000 men who underwent searches at the jail since 2002, said he is now seeking a trial date to determine monetary damages.

Since so many more men have been strip-searched than women, Morrissey estimated the lawsuit could cost the county tens of millions of dollars. The 1996 suit filed by female detainees at the jail was settled in 2001 by the
Cook County Board for about $6.8 million.

Steve Puiszis, a lawyer for the Cook County sheriff's office, which runs the massive jail facility, argued that even male detainees found not guilty need to be strip-searched. There is no room to separate and hold them without being strip-searched until a criminal background check can be completed, he said.

The sheriff's office also argued in court papers that male detainees needed to be strip-searched because they are more violent than females and more likely to smuggle weapons and contraband back into the jail from court. But Bucklo said statistics provided by the sheriff's office undercut its own argument by showing female detainees are proportionally responsible for more acts of violence than male detainees.

Quentin Bullock, 53, a former county jail detainee who is a party to the lawsuit, said he was taken back to the jail and strip-searched after he was found not guilty of armed robbery in 2003. He said officers ordered between 50 and 70 detainees to line up in a jail hallway and told them to take off their clothes and squat down.

"It's very degrading," Bullock said.

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