New security measures at Jackson County jail cause concern for some women

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For the last few budget cycles, the Jackson County Detention Center tried to get funding approved to hire a company to conduct security screenings. But the money was never approved, and now, jail administrators are taking matters into their own hands by implementing new security measures.

The purpose of the new practices is to increase safety by reducing the amount of contraband that gets into the jail.

Now, everyone who enters the secure part of the jail who has physical contact with inmates must pass through a metal detector. There are not any exceptions.

But some attorneys who are women say the new measures create a dilemma, as the metal in their bras set off metal detectors.

The new requirements were a challenge for attorney Laurie Snell. She went to visit a client Friday and set off the metal detector even after she took off her shoes, jewelry and glasses.

" I said literally, there's nothing else left on me except for my bra," Snell said. "And he said you can't go through unless you pass security."

According to jail administrators, everyone has to take their shoes off before going through metal detectors. The jail also added a new x-ray machine.

"I asked for alternatives, I asked to be wanded like they do at the airport or at the ballgame, and they said that's not an option and then I asked to talk to the Sgt. and when the Sgt. showed up, he just reinforced that there were no exceptions so I had to make a choice," Snell said.

Snell said her choice was to remove her bra, as she would not have any other opportunities to meet with her client before her court date.

"I went in the bathroom which is on the other side, took of my bra and put it in the bin and, walked through and passed," Snell said.

Snell said she put her bra back on while in the elevator. She met with the same client again Monday and said once again, had to remove her underwire bra to pass the screening.

"I think it's discriminatory because, the men, they take off their shoes and belts," Snell said. "They don't have to take off their undergarments. There's a lot of female attorneys that communicate, and none of us are happy about this. This is impacting our work, our legitimate work for the county, for these people, in an unnecessary way."

On Monday morning, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte tweeted that the bra removal was a misunderstanding and no one was asked to take their underwire bras off to enter the jail.

"It is true," Snell said. "No one said take off your bra. They said you can't go through to see your client until you pass through security. It's a dilemma for a busy professional with obligations and responsibilities for a client."

Director of the Jackson County Detention Center Diana Turner said she's proud of the security strides at the jail and said the measures keep people safe.

"The problem for us is not knowing whether we`re dealing with a piece of clothing that`s setting it off, or if we`re dealing with a weapon," Diana Turner said.

The Jackson County Legislature talked about the new security rules Monday. Legislator Jalen Anderson said he wants to protect the detention center and everyone else.

"I think we have a real opportunity here to fix something that might have been done in the best interest, but is going to hit women specifically in a way that it should not," Anderson said. "And that's not the way government should be."

Anderson said he wants to meet with Sheriff Forte and with Turner to find a solution that works for everyone. Turner said they don't have plans to change the new security measures, but they're open to conversation and new, stronger screening technology.

Sheriff Forte sent out this statement on Monday:

"New security measures at county jail to increase safety The Jackson County Detention Center has instituted universal screening to support the safety and security of the staff, inmates, and visitors. All visitors entering the secure perimeter and having physical contact with inmates must successfully clear screening to be admitted into the jail. This screening is required of all persons, regardless of rank or title. All of the employees of the jail, to include vendors and contractors, have made the necessary adjustments to successfully clear the screening point following the implementation of these added security measures on May 16, 2019. The safety and security of our employees, inmates, and the community remain a priority for me. The new safety measures will aid us in ensuring the safety of everyone. The voters transferred the administration of the Detention Center to the Sheriff's Office expecting changes. We will continue to make positive changes to increase the safety and security of all."

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