Parents to sue over strip-searching of pupils on jail visit

8th June 2001 at 01:00

PARENTS are to file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit after at least nine 14 and 15-year-olds were strip-searched during a school trip to a jail in Washington DC.

The warden of the jail and three of his guards have been fired, and the school's principal and disciplinary administrator have been suspended.

The 13 students, from the Evans middle school, had been taken to the prison because they were prone to disciplinary problems, and an administrator at their school thought it would be educational for them to see it. Nine of the pupils have told investigators that they were strip-searched. Since then, students from Evans and another school - including at least one girl - who toured the jail on three separate occasions have said they also were strip-searched.

But prison guards responded that they had been told to "straighten up" the youths, who were in trouble for such offences as missing classes and fighting. The jail began giving tours to poorly behaved students in 1989 as a way of discouraging them from a life of crime.

According to a memo obtained by the Washington Post, the school's disciplinary administrator, Dorothy Simpkins, wrote to corrections authorities when she requested the tour: "I would love them to experience the way they will live when they are punished by the law. They wil not obey their parents. Some are just out there and we may be able to reach some of our youth by visiting the morgues and the jails."

Ms Simpkins has been placed on leave. So, too, has the principal of the school, who was allegedly informed about the strip-searching incident, but failed to report it to her superiors and allowed another group of 18 students to visit the jail the next day.

The jail's warden, Patricia Britton, was fired for failing to investigate the incident. Three guards who are believed to have conducted the strip-searches were also sacked.

"There needs to be accountability," said mayor Anthony Williams. "People were well intentioned, but this was way in excess of what's acceptable."

Parents of the students said their children had suffered shame and humiliation. They said they would file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.

"I want change out of this so that it never has to happen to any other children again," said Constance Redd, whose 14-year-old daughter was forced to tour the jail.

The uproar comes after the school system in the nation's capital was already embarrassed by a series of cases in which teachers allegedly physically abused badly behaved students, forcing the superintendent to require administrators to undergo training in the proper means of punishment.

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