Chants of "we need support" broke out on the steps of the Jackson County courthouse Wednesday as dozens of attorneys rallied against what they consider sexist security protocol at the county jail.
Tension has been rising this week as female attorneys have complained they have to remove their underwire bras to see their clients in the jail, and the only solution offered by jail officials was a new policy that permits non-contact visits.
Little progress on the issue was made at a 90-minute meeting of the County Legislature on Wednesday. Sheriff Darryl Forté didn't budge on the security protocol.
"There will not be any reduction in the security we have," he said.
Every inmate is strip-searched after having a contact visit with an attorney, Department of Corrections Director Diana Turner said. She defended the screening as necessary to keep contraband out of the jail and protect the jail staff, 15 of whom were present during the meeting.
She also acknowledged that the Department of Corrections is still working through the new screening process.
Legislators seemed far from convinced of the necessity or effectiveness of the protocol, which attorneys have argued violates their clients' constitutional right to counsel.
"The Sixth Amendment is a serious thing that should not be sacrificed for the illusion of security," said 3rd District At-Large Legislator Tony Miller.
Dan Tarwater, of the 4th District, said the policy doesn't make sense to him, and Jalen Anderson, of the 1st, said he thinks there are bigger issues at the jail, like raising wages for the corrections officers and investing in better facilities.
Legislator Crystal Williams and a few of her colleagues urged a quick fix to avoid time-consuming and costly lawsuits that could come from attorneys if the issue continues.
Per the Legislature's recommendation, Forté said he would be amenable to meeting with the attorneys, though no date was set.
Attorney Tracy Spradlin said the longer the policy continues as is, the greater harm it could do.
"This could have a chilling effect on the hiring of female attorneys in the county," she said.
Federal Public Defender Carie Allen has a list of 19 Missouri facilities she's entered wearing an underwire bra, including maximum security prisons. With the exception of one maximum security prison — Potosi Correctional Center — she said she's never seen anything like this.
"Nothing even close," she said. "This is not normal. I have represented death row inmates while wearing an underwire bra."