Virginia’s governor on Friday ordered the suspension of a Department of Corrections policy after an 8-year-old was reportedly strip-searched when attempting to visit her father in prison last month.
“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as Governor, but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, tweeted Friday.
He said that he had directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security “to suspend this policy while the Department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures.”
On Thursday, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that an 8-year-old girl was stripped and searched by a Virginia Department of Corrections staff while visiting her father at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn.
The girl, who was accompanied by her father’s girlfriend, was led to believe that refusing the search would result in her not being allowed to see her dad, the newspaper reported.
An email seeking comment from the Department of Corrections was not immediately returned Friday night.
Lisa Kinney, the department’s director of communications, told the newspaper that the staff member who approved the search did not have that authority. She called it “deeply troubling” and said it “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,” she said.
The search is said to have happened Nov. 24. The girl’s mother told The Virginia-Pilot that her daughter “was traumatized.”
Both the girl and her father’s girlfriend were made to remove all their clothes and searched, and their car was examined before they were allowed to have a non-contact visit with the child’s father, The Virginian-Pilot reported. No contraband was found.
The girlfriend told the newspaper that the search was ordered after a dog singled her out and that guards initially said the child would not need to be searched but reversed the decision after consulting with a captain. The girlfriend said she was led to believe that they had to consent or the 8-year-old would be prohibited from visiting her father anymore.
The girl’s mother plans on filing a lawsuit, the newspaper reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia tweeted that Northam was right to suspend the policy.
“We’re pleased that the government is taking steps to protect children from invasive, humiliating strip searches so that this never happens again to another child,” the civil liberties group said.
Dillwyn is a town of around 500 around 35 miles south of Charlottesville.