For the record, jails aren’t fun places.
Entering at the sally port, an arrestee passes through several layers of challenges and security doors, his progress monitored remotely, until he arrives at the booking area where a thorough – some might say intimate – pat down search awaits.
From that point on, the level of intrusion may vary depending on the specific charges and court mandate. Strip searches are conducted on a case-by-case basis, and always supervised by same-sex staff members. In my experience, that level of dehumanization represented the limits of an incarceration facility’s authority.
A recent TNT story (8/23) challenged that notion, brining to light Puyallup’s controversial use of surveillance cameras in that city’s municipal jail.
To reiterate, nobody expects jail to be a picnic. Maintaining a sterile, secure environment is impossible without a heightened level of scrutiny, especially when dealing with potentially dangerous individuals. The question is how much intrusion is too much? Where does one draw the line?
The answer is at the bathroom door.
The colorless images of inmates using the bathroom inside the Puyallup jail are the demeaning result of unchecked authority. These are not terrorists after all, but misdemeanor arrestees. National security is not at stake, nor is public safety an issue. Instead, these people suffer this indignity solely to prevent the potential destruction of evidence in a misdemeanor crime.
Consider this experience: Years before the resurgence of Tacoma’s downtown, my partner and I arrested hundreds of people for various drug offenses. On countless occasions, subjects would attempt to destroy the evidence; users would often drop a dime-sized hit of black tar heroin in their mouths, while dealers would shove chunks of black tar heroin right up “where the sun don’t shine.” One would think that securing evidence of a felony would be sufficient for emergency room staff to go digging for said package, but we were turned away each time. Such intrusion without a warrant was universally condemned.
In hindsight, I agree.
According to the TNT report, no other local lockup facilities have video monitors hovering over the bathroom, ready to record an inmate’s illicit bowel movement or nervous urine stream. Without compelling reason – or a court order – Puyallup’s use of these cameras amounts to nothing less than a lazy abuse of power.
Time to flush it.