A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Bill Would Allow Strip Searches for Misdemeanor Crimes; Probable Cause Not Necessary

Supporters say it's for safer jails; opponents say it's 'degrading and unnecessary'

Citing safer jails and a reduction in unnecessary lawsuits, State Sen. Rick Jones introduced legislation that would allow anyone put in jail for a misdemeanor to be strip searched without probable cause.

Sen. Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced Senate Bill 958 last week. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Jones said the law would bring Michigan's jails in line with the federal prisons, where he said strip searches are allowed without cause. There have been people with weapons hidden on or inside their bodies, he said. Sen. Jones has a background in public safety and served as a jail administrator for four years.

Sen. Jones

"It is just simply not safe to not check people before you put them in the jail population," he said.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said there are many examples of people smuggling contraband and weapons inside their bodies. And he said he's seen it happen with people convicted on seemingly non-violent crimes.

"[T]he only way we can keep a facility safe is to have the ability to do a strip search," Sheriff Bouchard said.

Without it, he said, "lives will be lost; it's the simplest answer."

Rana Elmir, deputy director of the ACLU of Michigan, said the civil rights organization strongly opposes the bill.

"Forcibly strip searching a person without suspicion who is being held for a minor infraction is a heavy-handed solution in search of a nonexistent problem," Elmir said. "Allowing our jails to conduct blanket strip searches without suspicion is wrongheaded, degrading and unnecessary across the board, but doing this to people who simply neglected to pay a traffic ticket or are in court because they got caught fishing out of season is particularly egregious."