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Female lawyers challenge ‘invasive’ searches at prisons

When lawyer Patricia DeJuneas walked through the metal detector at MCI-Norfolk, a medium-security prison, and the machine sounded, she was not surprised.

It’s the underwire in my bra, she explained to a correctional officer.

Then, she recalled, a male lieutenant told her to go to a back room with a female officer, who asked her to lift up her turtleneck and “shake” her bra out to prove she had no contraband.

DeJuneas is one of six women who told the Globe they were improperly searched at prison facilities in Norfolk.

Now, Secretary Daniel Bennett of the Executive Office of Public Safety is “reviewing these procedures to ensure both that visitors’ personal privacy is protected and the prisons’ security is not compromised,” said Terrel Harris, spokesman for the office.


The Massachusetts Bar Association is calling for an investigation by the Executive Office of Public Safety, calling DeJuneas’s complaint a possible violation of the constitutional rights of lawyers and their clients.

“It’s repugnant behavior that’s directed at members of our profession that are female,” said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the state’s bar association. “It seems to be on the face of it an attempt to frustrate an attorney’s access to their client.”

DeJuneas, a 46-year-old appellate lawyer and a former lawyer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, wrote half a dozen state officials after she said she was searched this week, including Governor Charlie Baker, to report the episode. She said she refused to lift her turtleneck and was eventually allowed to see her client, but the episode is apparently not an isolated one at that particular prison.

The Globe interviewed five female lawyers and a law student who said officials at MCI-Norfolk and the Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk had asked them to lift their shirts and show them their bras to prove they were not smuggling banned items for their clients. The ages of the women ranged from 24 to 61, and the episodes they described occurred between 2012 and the present.


“I vividly remember standing there feeling very humiliated, powerless, and unable to make any choice because I needed to see my client,” said Angela Lehman. A 48-year-old Somerville lawyer, Lehman said that in 2012 she was told she had to open her blouse and allow a female officer to feel around her breasts if she wanted to see her client, who was appealing a conviction.

Lawyers visiting clients in prison in Massachusetts must pass through a fixed metal detector. If that detector sounds, the lawyer is subjected to a hand-held scanner. When the scanner detects the presence of an “unexplained metal object,” the lawyer must say what the object is. If correctional officers are not convinced, the lawyer is asked to consent to a pat down or “further search,” according to rules established by the Department of Correction.

Prosecutors are not subjected to these rules, Harris said, “because prosecutors are public officials.”

Jon Mograss, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, said all corrections officers, regardless of their rank, are subjected to the same stringent searches as the public. Those searches are a direct result of the 1972 murders of corrections officers James Souza and Alfred Baranowski, who were shot by an inmate trying to escape MCI-Norfolk. That inmate used a gun his wife had smuggled into the prison.


“We take searching anyone very seriously,” Mograss said.

But the lawyers and student interviewed by the Globe said officers at other Department of Correction facilities across the state never ask them to lift their shirts when they explain they are wearing an underwire bra.

“They pull out the wand and run it up and down and that’s it,” Lehman said.

In June 2012, Denise Regan, a lawyer with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, sent a letter to then Department of Correction commissioner Luis S. Spencer complaining that officers asked to see her bra when the detector went off at MCI-Norfolk.

“I refused,” she wrote. “They were polite, but insisted that I would have to show my bra to gain entry.” She left without seeing her client.

In his response, Spencer told her the officers behaved correctly, citing a recent episode where metal contraband was found under the clothing “in a female visitor’s chest area notwithstanding her explanation that an under wire brassiere was to blame.”

Ashley Leavitt, a 24-year-old law student at Boston University, said she was given no warning about a search when she went to MCI-Norfolk with a male student and a male lawyer to visit an inmate convicted of armed robbery.

When the detector went off, a female officer promptly escorted her behind a curtain in a back room and told her to lift up her shirt.

Confused, Leavitt said she lifted it up to her belly button.

“ ‘I need you to pull it up and show the underneath of your bra,’ ” Leavitt recalled her saying. Leavitt flipped her bra over and was then allowed into the prison with her male colleagues.


DeJuneas said lawyers should be given the benefit of the doubt like prosecutors.

“We’re serving a constitutional function, and we’re officers of the court,” she said. “I have no motive to smuggle in anything to my clients. Why would I jeopardize my career?”

In Rhode Island, underwire bras are banned from all prisons, except for those worn by female lawyers, the result of a compromise reached between corrections officials and the state’s law bar in 2011.

Unless the officer has a strong suspicion that anything besides an underwire bra is setting off the metal detector, a female lawyer can enter the prison after going through the detector three times and being searched with a hand-held scanner.

“These are attorneys who are coming in to do a job,” said Susan Lamkins, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Correction. “They have to come in to meet their clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all attorneys always follow the rules and don’t ever break laws. But if it’s clear to us . . . that it’s likely it’s an underwire bra then we’ll let them go in.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.