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Northam Suspends Security Policy at Virginia Prisons, After 8-Year-Old Is Strip Searched

A close up shot of a razorwire fence
(Creative Commons)

Governor Ralph Northam suspended a Virginia Department of Corrections policy on Friday that allows strip searches of minors who are visiting the state’s prisons.

Department of Corrections (VDOC) staff reportedly stripped an eight-year-old girl naked and searched her as she tried to visit her father at the Buckingham Corrections Center in November. 

VDOC Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said strip searching a minor is extremely rare, but department policy permits the practice when a parent or legal guardian is present. In this case, Kinney said department procedures were not followed because the adult visitor who consented was not the minor's parent or legal guardian.

“The incident is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol,” Kinney said. “We sincerely apologize to this child and her family.”

Kinney said the staff member who authorized the search is being disciplined.

On Friday, Gov.Northam directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran to suspend the policy while VDOC reviews its procedures.

“I am deeply disturbed by these reports—not just as Governor, but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam said in a statement.

Kinney said strip search policies for visitors to prisons are in place to prevent contraband like drugs or weapons from being smuggled into prisons and visitors are free to deny the strip search request and leave the facility.

The searches are requested when a K-9 has alerted on a visitor, Kinney added.

The Department of Corrections came under fire last fall when it banned visitors from wearing feminine hygiene products while visiting state prisons. Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran suspended the policy until further review.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.