The Virginia Department of Corrections has submitted a public apology for subjecting an eight-year-old girl to a strip search during a trip to visit her father in state prison.
On Nov. 24, Diamond Peerman drove her boyfriend’s daughter to visit him at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va. When they arrived, the two were searched for any contraband. According to Peerman, she and the girl were sniff-checked by the facility’s trained dog. When Peerman was singled out, officials told her and the child to remove their clothes to be searched. Afterward, they were then allowed to visit the man through glass.
The policy for searching a minor, according to DOC, is that the legal parent or guardian must sign a consent form allowing the search. However, Peerman is not the child’s legal parent or guardian, but authorities still told her to sign the form despite her informing them of her parental status. “I told her, that means you have to take all of your clothes off, or you’re not going to be able to see your dad,” Peerman told the Virginian-Pilot. “That’s when she started crying.”
While breaking into more tears, the child decided to go along with the search and was brought to a bathroom by two female guards to be searched. “We would characterize that as a highly coercive policy,” Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for ACLU of Virginia, told the Pilot after examining the policy. The girl’s mother said she suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the incident has intensified some of those issues. “She’s a minor; she’s a girl. She was traumatized,” the girl’s mother said. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”
In response, Lisa Kinney, the Virginia DOC Director of Communications, admitted that department procedures weren’t followed and that the individual who conducted the search was unauthorized to do so. “The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so,” Kinney wrote in an email to the Pilot. “It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.”