Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Intrusive, degrading, humiliating - and ineffective

The government is currently progressing a bill through Parliament which would, among other things, remove restrictions on Corrections' use of strip searches, while making them more invasive and humiliating. So is this bill actually necessary? A recent OIA request publicised by FYI suggests not.

According to the OIA response [PDF], Corrections conducted 208,661 strip searches last financial year. Of those, a mere 511 resulted in finding unauthorised items. That's a success rate of a stunning 0.24%. The conclusion? Very few prisoners hide things in a fashion which requires a strip search to find.

Corrections notes that

The importance of strip searches as a deterrent to prisoners smuggling contraband into prisons cannot be underestimated.
Which is undoubtedly correct. At the same time, what matters for a deterrent is certainty (you will be searched) and effectiveness (anything you are hiding will be found). There are undoubtedly technological solutions which will provide the necessary deterrent without the need for the mass use of intrusive, degrading, and humiliating strip searches. But sadly, I think that for Corrections, that humiliation is a feature, not a bug.