In Jackson County Jail, female lawyers remove their bras at the security checkpoints to avoid setting off the metal detector. Over the past two months, the initiative spurred a legal debate, a public protest, and animosity between lawyers and the county officials in Missouri.
The situation is being titled “Bra-Gate.” Missouri is not the first to face these issues, as women in Maine, Pennsylvania, and Australia have faced similar issues involving security, privacy, and gender discrimination in prisons. In Kansas City, Missouri, the situation has gotten so bad that a sex discrimination complaint has officially been filed.
Most of the outrage comes from the way men and women are treated differently while in the security checkpoint. Men are allowed to take off their shoes and belts to put in the x-ray machine and then put them on again once they’re in the secure area. Women are not allowed to do so with their bras.
Laurie Snell, one of the lawyers who took off her bra at the checkpoint, doesn’t understand why security measures are still biased against women. She wonders why security guards can’t use the metal wands or the pat-down method like many airports do. “Nobody is against security. We’re just in favor of fairness,” she said.
Diana Turner, director of the Jackson County Corrections Department, is pushing back against these complaints by female lawyers. The detention center in question has faced serious safety and security issues, as well as a lack of staff, causing the extra precautions that require everyone to pass through the metal detectors. Turner is more worried about women taking off their undergarments and actually putting them through the x-ray machine, as that could cause more harassment complaints from visitors. “We have never asked someone to remove their undergarments. The recent conflict has been people trying to put undergarments into the X-ray bin, and we consider that unacceptable because there’s no way it ends well for our agency with our screening officers having to handle undergarments,” Turner said.
Turner added that wands aren’t a good idea either because they cannot differentiate between a contraband item and the underwire of a bra.
Even if lawyers can’t pass through the metal detector, they are still allowed to talk to their clients through plexiglass. Yet many believe this isn’t good enough, like lawyer Tracy Spradlin. “We cannot meaningfully exchange documents with them that way, and we cannot have free conversations,” she said.
There are no exact numbers on how many women are affected by the metal detectors, yet some lawyers believe there could be a problem with employees of the jails reporting issues because of the fear of losing their paychecks.Either way, singling women out because of their undergarments is an unfair practice that needs to be addressed quickly so as to maintain safety standards and the dignity of female lawyers. The law field is already heavily dominated by men. Practices such as these discourage women from interacting with their clients and ensuring a speedy trial.