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To See Their Clients In Jackson County's Jail, Attorneys Now Must Remove Their Bras

Katie Moore
Kansas City Star
Ruth Petsch, the head of Missouri's public defender office in Kansas City, told the county's presiding judge last week that the Jackson County Detention Center won't let her staff in to visit their clients because 'they have the wrong underwear.'

This story has been updated and clarified with quotes from Presiding Judge David Byrn from the court transcript.

New security measures at the Jackson County Detention Center are causing some controversy after female attorneys complained they are required to remove their underwire bras in order to enter. 

In a tweet Monday, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté called this "misinformation," saying that "no one was asked to take off underwire bras."

But attorney Laurie Snell told KCUR that she had to take her bra off to pass through a metal detector to see a client on Friday. After setting off the alarm a few times, she said she removed her jewelry and glasses, but it still went off. 

"I said, 'Well, there's nothing else. There's no other metal except my underwire bra.' And he said, 'You have to pass through security,'" Snell said.

She said the supervisor told her there were no exceptions. So, she went to the bathroom, took off her bra, placed it in the bin and passed through the detector. Once inside, she said she had nowhere to go to put it back on, so she did so in the elevator on the way to her client. 

To Forté's tweet, Snell said he's technically right. 

"Technically, was I asked to remove my bra? No. But officially, did I have to make a choice? Yeah. Because I'm doing my job, and I only have so much time. And that's not fair," she said.

Just last week, during lengthy proceedings over what District Public Defender Ruth Petsch calls a "caseload crisis" in her office, Petsch raised the same concern and said it was preventing her attorneys from doing their jobs.

"The jail won't let in half my staff because they have the wrong underwear," Petsch told Presiding Judge David Byrn.

Beyond that, Petsch told the court the Jackson County Detention Center changed its security protocol without giving her office any notice. Petsch said that many of the people who work for her office can't afford to buy new bras.

Byrn seemed skeptical. He noted that the new policy applied to everyone, including employees and himself.

"But don't you think that probably every other female over there has figured out a way to get in without that being an issue," Byrn said, according to a court transcript. "I don't understand why that's just impeding your people cause nobody else is having a problem with it?" 

Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams is still reviewing the new security policy, but she said that it is evident there is "undue impact on women."

"There are a lot of women who use underwire bras. I mean, it seems unseemly that we're discussing this, it really shouldn't be, but this is just their underwear. There are women that must use these products," Williams said.

She pointed out that many people who need to get into the jail for work have already passed background checks and been given permission to be in the jail.

"If a man takes his belt off when he goes through that and his pants don't fall down, he's good to go. What are you going to do about a bra that you have to wear? It makes no sense. And it feels sexist and arbitrary," she said. "There has to be a workaround." 

Forté did not immediately respond to KCUR's requests for comment. 

Earlier Monday, his office released a statement about the new security protocol, which went into effect on May 16. The security measures were not described in detail, just that all visitors must "successfully clear screening to be admitted."

"The new safety measures will aid us in ensuring the safety of everyone," Forté said in a statement. "The voters transferred the administration of the Detention Center to the Sheriff's Office expecting changes."

He added that he would continue to make "positive changes to increase the safety and security of all."

Correction: A previous web and audio version of the story incorrectly stated that Judge David Byrn “suggested attorneys could buy new bras” to comply with the new jail screening policy. According to the court transcript, he noted that other women had been able to comply with the changes.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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