Strip searches are dehumanizing, humiliating, state-sanctioned trauma and sexual violence.

The ACLU of Connecticut supports efforts that work to improve conditions in our state’s prisons. The ACLU-CT is also committed to ending mass incarceration, eliminating racial disparities in the criminal legal system, and reducing harms to justice-impacted people. This includes addressing the root reasons why people come into contact with the criminal legal system in the first place and ensuring that people who do come into contact with the criminal legal system get the help and support that they need.

On March 15, 2023, ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice leader Terri Ricks testified in support of S.B. 1196 during its public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The following is her testimony:

Hello Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom and Ranking Members Senator Kissel and Representative Fishbein. My name is Terri Ricks, I am a resident of Hartford, a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut, and I am here today to testify in support of Senate Bill 1196, regarding strip searches in the Department of Corrections.

I am a Black woman who is a survivor of lifelong oppression. I’ve had to fight every day of my life for a life, and I cannot think of a fight that is more necessary and even life-altering than this one. Like many of the people the Committee has heard from today, strip searches are dehumanizing, humiliating, state-sanctioned trauma and sexual violence. I do not say that lightly, and this is very difficult to talk about. I was already a rape survivor when I became incarcerated for one year. When my friends and family would come to visit me during the beginning of my sentence, I would be strip searched before and after seeing them. This was especially problematic and traumatic when women are experiencing their monthly menstrual cycle. I never understood why I had to go into a room, take off all my clothes and have to expose myself in front of people, then go see my family feeling so violated that I could barely talk to them. And even as I tried to maintain my composure, I knew that as soon as my family left I would have to go through it all over again. After enduring this torture for six months, I had to apologize to my family and ask them to stop coming to visit because I could not continue going through it anymore.

I think it’s also important to say that I never saw any justification for these strip searches, and if anything it’s the Correctional Officers that need to be searched because they are often primarily responsible for smuggling contraband a correctional facility. The Department of Corrections will say that strip-searches are about safety and security, but my experience was that it was really about power and control. If we are being honest about wanting to help people come out of incarceration with the opportunity and ability to live a successful and productive life, whether it’s about making sure they have an ID, a GED, medical care, mental health supports, then the Department of Corrections has to stop burying them in trauma. It’s been nearly 20 years since I walked out of the women’s prison in Niantic, yet I can remember and feel those strip searches like they happened to me this morning.

I urge the members of the Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of Senate Bill 1196 so that people who are incarcerated can have the privacy and safety they need and deserve. Thank you for listening to my testimony and I would be happy to address any questions you may have.