NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two women and three children have joined a lawsuit that claims female visitors at a private Tennessee prison were forced to undergo strip searches because they were menstruating.
The lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America was first filed two weeks ago in federal court in Nashville. The original plaintiff claims prison guards forced her to expose her genitals to prove she was menstruating when she tried to take a sanitary napkin into the facility.
Since then, two more women have come forward claiming similar treatment at the prison about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. In an amended complaint filed on Wednesday, one of the women claims that she had her three children with her during an April 2014 prison visit, and that they had to witness the procedure.
The woman's 16-year-old questioned the guard about the necessity of the inspection, according to the lawsuit, and her 5-year old asked the woman why they had done it. Her 3-year-old child also was present.
"The body cavity search in front of her three children caused Plaintiff extreme emotional distress and caused her to feel humiliated, embarrassed and dehumanized," according to the lawsuit.
Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Jonathan Burns said in an email that maintaining safe facilities was a top priority.
"To that end, CCA facilities employ standardized policies and procedures to prevent the introduction of contraband, which are typically prescribed by our government partners," Burns wrote.
CCA operates the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton for the Tennessee Department of Correction, which is the "government partner" in this case.
Tennessee Department of Correction policy says visitors may have to replace feminine hygiene products in the presence of a guard, but only if there is reasonable suspicion that contraband is being brought in.
The lawsuit claims CCA is violating this policy by forcing all menstruating women to undergo a search regardless of whether there is any suspicion of contraband. It also claims guards are going beyond what the policy allows by inspecting women's genitals.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the plaintiffs' humiliation and asks that such automatic searches of all menstruating women be banned as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs have asked the court to let them proceed anonymously because of the embarrassing details of the claims.