"Labia Lifts" Terrorize Female PrisonersS

No, it's not the latest ridiculous plastic surgery procedure — the "labia lift" is a new search technique used at a Denver women's prison, and the ACLU says it's degrading and even dangerous.

Here's how one inmate at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility (not pictured) described the process:

The lift is treated differently by officers, but generally involves spreading your legs and parting your outer labia so an officer can do a visual inspection of your genitals. I have had to perform this procedure simply standing; from a sitting position with my legs spread eagle and having a flashlight shined at my genitals; from a standing position with a foot perched on a toilet and an officer's face inches from my genitals; in front of multiple officers and once in front of an officer and two Life Safety trainees….

According to the ACLU's Blog of Rights, some prisoners are even "forced to pull back the skin of their clitorises." This isn't just embarrassing and potentially painful — it also risks psychologically harming the up to 80% of female prisoners who are also prior abuse victims. Says one prisoner,

Being a survivor of sexual trauma the new labia-lift procedure encouraged my post-traumatic stress disorder. I had periodic flashbacks …. I have also witnessed women literally crying when they were subject to the labia lift…

Cavity searches in prisons are common, and another notes that inmates had previously been required to spread their buttocks while coughing so guards could make sure they weren't hiding anything anally. But is it really possible to hide much of value in your clitoral skin? Is the risk of this really worth the damage done to women by the procedure?

The ACLU argues that it's not. They note that since the searches are often conducted after meetings with lawyers or family, they could discourage prisoners from scheduling the visits they're entitled to. And, says, ACLU laywer Mark Silverstein, "exacerbating mental illnesses through traumatic body cavity searches decreases the likelihood of re-entry into the community and could well lead to higher rates of recidivism." Translation: forcing female prisoners to spread their labia isn't just bad for them, it could be bad for society. Even those who don't care about prisoners' rights should be able to understand that.

ACLU Calls On Denver Women's Correctional Facility To End Degrading Body Cavity Searches [ACLU]
In Colorado, A New Breed Of Degrading Search In Prisons [ACLU Blog of Rights]