Strip searches are used to embarrass, shame and dehumanize. It's time to end the practice. Reentry is difficult without an ID. Sending people home from prison without an ID is setting them up for failure.

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 Tracie Bernardi testified in support of S.B. 1070 during its public hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The following is her testimony:

Good day Senator Winfield, Representative Stafstrom, Ranking Members Senator Kissel, Representative Fishbein, and all the distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Tracie Bernardi, I am a resident of Waterbury and a Leader with the Smart Justice Campaign at the ACLU of Connecticut. I am testifying today in support of two bills, SB 1196 regarding strip searches with the Department of Corrections, and HB 6875 regarding state IDs for people leaving incarceration.

According to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination act PRIA, the Connecticut Department of Correction does not tolerate sexual abuse or sexual harassment of any inmate. In fact, it states they have a zero-tolerance policy. Conversely, however, it allows guards and other staff members to literally coerce people to strip naked against their will and through the threat of punishment. For twenty-three years I was strip-searched hundreds if not thousands of times. I was ordered to lift each of my breasts, shake out my hair, ordered to face the wall and squat and cough, then to bend at the knees and spread my butt cheeks and cough. Honestly, it felt as if I was being raped and abused over and over, to the point where I have severe post-traumatic stress to this day. I knew if I didn’t comply, I’d be punished. It felt like I was stripping at gun point. I once witnessed a group of staff at York CI knock a 300-pound elderly black woman out of a wheelchair in the West Side Gym because she refused to take off her clothes. Everyone in the gym witnessed the guards, counselors, and other brass tackle her to the ground and mace her, all because she refused to comply with a strip search. Mind you, she had Lupus, recent heart attacks and could barely walk. We all knew we did not have the right to refuse to be stripped and would likely be sent to solitary confinement if we did refuse. I rarely if ever saw any reason, any real justification for strip searches in my 23 years of incarceration other than to embarrass, shame and dehumanize the women I knew who were trying to survive an incredibly difficult chapter in their lives.

I also wanted to mention my support for HB 6875. As a full-time Reentry Case Manager in Waterbury, I can tell you it is extremely difficult to help a person coming home if they don’t have an ID. There are men in halfway houses with job offers they cannot take because they don’t have an ID. They cannot get a phone without an ID. It is practically impossible to obtain housing. You can barely cash a Burlington Clothing voucher without an ID. It is also extremely difficult to get health care services without an ID, and many people leaving prison, especially people who have served long sentences, are facing medical issues. Sending people home from prison without an ID is setting them up for failure. This is not good for them and not good for our communities. If the state knows a person’s identity well enough to incarcerate them, then the state should provide them with proper identification when they leave. Call it a parting gift – a real chance at transitioning successfully and productively.

I support HB 6875 and SB 1196 and urge the members of this Committee to vote in favor of these bills. Thank you for listening to my testimony and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.