Cumberland County Jail has had some problems contraband getting in. That’s why the Maine jail’s security protocols have been tightened to make sure anyone entering won’t bring something metal along with them. Unfortunately, the metal detectors weren’t just picking up keys and bracelets—they were also picking up bras. And women were being asked to remove theirs to enter. Now, the sheriff in charge of the jail says that lawyers can keep their bras on when visiting inmates.
The story of the jail’s new policies broke last week when two lawyers were invited to remove their bras because they were setting off the metal detector. And even though neither lawyer had had any issue getting into the jail before, they were suddenly being faced with a humiliating decision: take off the bra or go home.
From The Portland Press Herald:
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said attorney Amy Fairfield, who learned of the policy when she went to the jail Sept. 10.
Fairfield said Friday that she went to the jail last week to meet with a client and was turned away by a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy when her bra set off the metal detector and she refused to remove it.
“He said, ‘Are you wearing an underwire bra? Might I suggest you go to the bathroom and take that off?’ ” Fairfield recalled. “I said, ‘I will not. I am completely offended at that notion.’”
Attorney Gina Yamartino was faced with the same ridiculous request, as well as no help from the jail’s administrator Maj. John Costello:
“I’m apoplectic,” Yamartino said of how the incident upset her. “They said, ‘Go into the bathroom and take your bra off.’ I mean, are you kidding me?”
Yamartino said that when she was at the jail Thursday, she threatened to call the media if the deputy at the security entrance didn’t let her in, and the jail staff eventually let her speak with her client by phone in a secure enclosure where the two were separated by a clear wall.
“Costello called me (Friday) morning, and we had a conversation that was unbelievable. The things he was saying were unbelievable,” Yamartino said, offering “Don’t set off the metal detector” and “Wear a different bra” as examples.
The sheriff, Kevin Joyce, initially responded to the complaints by pointing out that a metal detector can’t “tell the difference between an underwire and a gun,” and while his assertion was backed up by the metal detector’s manufacturer, it seems that there are sensitivity settings that the company can adjust. (The jail administrators might also consider adjusting their own.) Joyce also pointed out that lawyers are not always above suspicion; the jail administrator, Joyce said, had worked in a facility at which a lawyer brought in a gun.
Despite his initial misgivings, though, Joyce has changed his tune, whether because of the fear of a lawsuit or the realization that making women take off their bras is sexist, humiliating, and unnecessary. Either way, Joyce has decided that anyone wearing a bra can at least keep it on while walking through the detectors.
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce says it’s important to make sure the jail is secure, but staff went too far in enforcing a rule that says no one can enter if they set off the metal detector.
Sarah Churchill, an attorney who also had a client in Cumberland County Jail, attempted to see whether the detector would go off when she came to meet with a client last Friday. The Portland Press Herald reports that it didn’t, but that doesn’t make the policy any less ridiculous.
“The TSA doesn’t ask me to take my bra off. The feds don’t ask me to take my bra off, but the Cumberland County Jail thinks it’s appropriate? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Churchill said.
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