Staff at the new Philadelphia family courthouse has come under fire after tipsters told the local media that children were being strip-searched upon entering the building.
According to the CBS local affiliate, CBS Philly, multiple sources told them that children entering the new Philadelphia family court building were being told to strip all of their clothes off, squat, and cough. Sources who were in a position to see the searches said that they were not sure how many children had been searched.
The courthouse has only been open for one week, and handles family law cases for the city of Philadelphia. Many of the children who enter the building are wards of the court for different reasons, and many have been victims of sexual and physical assault or human trafficking — which would make a strip search incredibly traumatic.
Philadelphia CBS reported that after the strip searching was leaked to the media, officials issued a statement saying the practice had been stopped.
The statement from Philadelphia officials reads as follows.
“On Tuesday morning of this week, in response to concerns raised by child advocates over allegations of strip searches of juveniles, the leadership of Philadelphia Family Court directed the Sheriff’s Office to cease and desist all strip searches pending further notice. Today, Family Court issued new rules governing the screening and detention of juveniles that the Court developed in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office.”
The Philadelphia Daily News also reported on the strip searches, noting that some of those subjected to the searches were “as young as 11 years old” and were stripped in “full view of other kids.”
The strip searches were conducted by adults, while other children were in the room. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the searches were humiliating on multiple levels.
“After all the clothing is removed, the child must then ‘bend over and cough’ so the sheriff can ‘look’ – all while in the presence of other youths in the same room,” wrote the email’s author, whose name the Daily News is withholding.
The Philadelphia Sheriff’s office conducted the searches on behalf of the family court building and as an agent of the courts. The state juvenile act only allows a search of a child if they are believed to be in possession of contraband of some kind, and not as a routine, blanket measure. It is also meant to apply to children who are in the system as residents of an institution or detention center, not those appearing in family court for a case related to their personal lives.
The new Philadelphia building has had a spotty history from its inception, as the developer was caught up in a controversy over a conflict of interest during its construction.