'Bra-Gate' Escalates As Jackson County Jail Doubles Down On Universal Screening Policies
Nearly 100 criminal defense attorneys signed an open letter to Sheriff Darryl Forté and other Jackson County officials Thursday, stating that the new security protocol is "unreasonable and unnecessary" and denies them meaningful access to their clients.
But a new policy announced Thursday is meant to accommodate the women who've complained that underwire bras are setting off the metal detector, and that they can't visit their clients unless they take off the bra or leave and return later with a new bra.
Department of Corrections Director Diana Turner said this "happy medium" will allow attorneys to enter the facility without clearing the detector for non-contact visits only, meaning they can only talk to their clients by phone separated by glass.
Heather Dujakovich, a legal assistant for the Kansas City public defender's office, told KCUR she has tried three times a week since May 15 to enter the jail to screen clients, and hasn't been able to get in. She said she needs an underwire bra for her thoracic spinal stenosis; her medical note has not yet been approved.
"It's frustrating. I can't do my job," she said.
The open letter, signed by female and male attorneys from across the metro, said the county's measures are not only humiliating for women, but also a violation of clients' constitutional right to legal counsel.
"People have got to be able to get in and see their clients. We have to be able to get in and do our jobs. There must be something they can do to allow us to get in and not have to take off our bras," Dujakovich said.
Turner told KCUR that her office has "no confirmation that anyone has had difficulty getting through our sreening because of what they're wearing." She also noted that the security measures are necessary to cut down on contraband inside the jail.
"Security is seldom convenient. It just isn't," she said.
But Turner's compromise regarding non-contact visits didn't sit well with attorney Denise Kirby, who signed the open letter.
"Clearly they don't understand what it takes to defend an inmate," Kirby said. "We need access to them, not through glass. We need to be able to have contact visits with our clients."
There have long been issues at the jail, which has been the site of a bribery scheme, inmate deaths and alleged sexual assault. So while Kirby agrees with the efforts to secure the facility and "be a safer place," she and her colleagues on the Jackson County Missouri Criminal Defense Bar can't think of an instance in which an attorney delivered contraband to an inmate in the last 30 years.
A protest, nicknamed "bra-gate," is planned for noon Wednesday outside of the detention center. It's being organized by Kansas City attorney Laurie Snell, who experienced an issue entering the jail first-hand, along with attorneys Molly Hastings and Megan Roth.
Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.