'SHE WAS TRAUMATIZED': Guards strip-search eight-year-old girl visiting inmate dad

This May 3, 2011 photo shows the entrance sign to the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Prison guards in Virginia told an eight-year-old girl she needed to be strip-searched or she wouldn’t be able to visit her inmate father.

The child, who is bipolar and has depression and ADHD, was at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va. with her father’s girlfriend, Diamond Peerman, for a Nov. 24 visit with her dad when a Department of Corrections K-9 sniffing for drugs alerted to the adult, requiring a search.

Initially, Peerman was told the girl would not be searched but a captain then said she would have to be, or both of them would be banned from the prison.

“I told her, that means you have to take all of your clothes off or you’re not going to be able to see your dad,” Peerman told the Virginian-Pilot. “That’s when she started crying.”

State policy allows for searches of this nature but requires consent from a legal guardian, which Peerman was not. Even after telling the guards she wasn’t the child’s guardian, she was told to sign the consent form.

Two female prison guards took them to a bathroom and, one at a time, had them strip naked, bend over and cough. Peerman said one of the guards tried to engage the eight-year-old in conversation while the child was naked, asking “how old are you, sweetheart?”

“I just looked at her and I’m like, ‘That’s not even appropriate to be asking her right now,’ ” Peerman said. “Why would you ask that when she’s naked?”

Nothing illegal was found on Peerman or the child or in the girlfriend’s car but they were still denied an in-person visit, settling instead for one through glass.

The girl’s mother was livid about the way her daughter was treated after finding out about the shocking incident in a text exchange.

“She’s a minor, she’s a girl. She was traumatized,” her mother told the Virginian-Pilot, adding that she would not return to the prison to visit her father. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”

It turns out the correctional officer who ordered the strip-search didn’t have the authority to do so, according to a DOC spokeswoman.

“It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol,” DOC spokeswoman Lisa Kinney told the Virginian-Pilot in an email. “We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.”

On Friday, after the story appeared on the Virginian-Pilot website, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam suspended the strip-search policy for children.

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