Western Mass Women's Correctional Center could face lawsuit - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Western Mass Women's Correctional Center could face lawsuit

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A class action lawsuit is being filed against the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee.

It alleges that the facility has an unconstitutional policy of letting male guards video tape female prisoners while they're being strip searched.

A hearing was held in Federal District Court in Springfield Tuesday morning.

Former prisoner Debra Baggett filed a law suit against Sheriff Michael Ashe and the Correctional Center Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy because she felt that the male guards video taping during strip searches was a violation. Plaintiffs say before may 2010 men held the camera for 68 percent of searches.

"You would have to undergo the most horrific of strip search, and I'm not sure, but it occurred with me more than 12 times and I consistently asked them to please use a female video camera operator and they said that they wouldn't," Baggett said. 

She says going through the strip search with a male presence affected her mental health. One- hundred-seventy-eight prisoners are part of this lawsuit, saying it's impossible for a man to video tape the strip search without watching. Plaintiff Representative David Milton says having males allowed to record it is an unnecessary and unreasonable practice.

"We believe that video taping and viewing are part and parcel of the same violation," he said. 

Theresa Finnegan represents the correctional facility and Sheriff Ashe, she says nothing in their policy and procedures violated the fourth amendment in any way.

"The women's facility, correctional facility is a facility run by women for women, what this case is not about is our polices and procedures have never permitted and, in fact, explicitly prohibited any participation by a man in any portion of a strip search while a female inmate is getting moved to higher security," Finnegan said. 

The correctional center says when men do have to operate the camera they have a policy to not look when recording, and their body is not in the actual cell. But the plaintiffs say just having a male present to video tape is simply unconstitutional. Finnegan says because of the lawsuit they're attempting to make sure only women are using the video camera.

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