Court Orders Settlement for Jail Videotaping Women's Strip Searches--and Statement by Debra Baggett

On April 9, 2015, a federal judge granted preliminary approval of the settlement of a class action regarding the videotaping of strip searches at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, in Chicopee (the “WCC”). The plaintiffs’ lawyers will send notice of the settlement and a claim form to class members. The Court has scheduled a final hearing on the fairness of the settlement, to take place on September 10, 2015. If the Court grants final approval, money will be sent to those class members who submit claim forms.

I've written about the case for Waging NonViolence, Solitary Watch and BitchMedia. You can read the background about both the case and lead plaintiff Debra Baggett's efforts to stop the practice. Today, Baggett issued the following statement:

Statement by Debra Baggett

Baggett v. Ashe

April 9, 2015

Federal Courthouse, Springfield, MA

Today we are closer to a resolution for the victims of Sheriff Michael J Ashe and those under his authority at the Hampden house of horrors. I speak for myself but in my heart I think of the 178 victim members of this class action and also the hundreds not included due to the statue of limitations and also every child, husband and parent that loves these women and are affected by proxy.

This is a good day but I know there is a better day on the horizon. A day when the needless videotaping of a nude woman will be recognized for the debasing act it is and for the trauma it creates. A day when incarceration is synonymous with community outreach to help, not harm women that are overwhelmingly poor, under educated and prior victims of substances, domestic violence and sexual abuse. That will be the day when people like Sheriff Ashe no longer find their worth in self-aggrandizement at clambakes with the rich and famous but in the returning of wives, sisters and daughters to their communities armed with skill sets designed to uplift, heal and bring joy and prosperity to our towns.

I want to thank the legal team of Howard Friedman, my attorney David Milton and the ever diligent Carmen Gunn Knight.

Much appreciation to community members who have supported these efforts such as:

Lois Ahrens and The Real Cost of Prisons Project
Victoria Law, reporter and advocate
Holly Richardson, OutNow
My Holyoke College and Students Against Mass Incarceration
Jean Trounstine, advocate and author
Representative Kay Kahn (Newton) for proposing HD 1073
Michael Albano, Governor’s Councillor

I am especially grateful for the wisdom and fairness of Federal Judge Michael Ponsor. Judge Ponsor rightfully realized that this was not so much about what male officers could and couldn't see but rather the humiliation and the unnecessary basement of the woman, the mother, daughter or sister who were forced under threat of physical harm to display to a camera held by a man the most private parts of their bodies, only to have the event memorialized on CD's carelessly tossed into a file cabinet without so much as a serial number to prevent the numerous disappearances said videos. Think the worst and just go with that.