Does the use of a virtual scanner by an opposite-gender staff person violate the prohibition against cross-gender viewing and/or cross-gender strip searches?


Section 115.15(a) states, “The facility shall not conduct cross-gender strip searches or cross-gender visual body cavity searches (meaning a search of the anal or genital opening) except in exigent circumstances or when performed by medical practitioners.” The regulations define “strip search” as “a search that requires a person to remove or arrange some or all clothing so as to permit a visual inspection of the person’s breasts, buttocks, or genitalia.” See standard 115.5. The standards also state, “The facility shall implement policies and procedures that enable inmates to shower, perform bodily functions, and change clothing without nonmedical staff of the opposite gender reviewing their breasts, buttocks, or genitalia, except in exigent circumstances.” See standard 115.15(d).

Whether or not a virtual scanner or other electronic search complies with this provision will depend on the technology involved. For example, some technologies provide images similar to an x-ray, with no discernable body contours. Other technologies only provide an image representing a human form, with no actual body images. The cross-gender use of these technologies complies with the PREA standards.

Other technologies can be more detailed and will provide outlines of breasts, buttocks, or genitalia. Cross-gender use of these technologies by non-medical staff would not comply with the PREA standards, unless used with privacy filters that can blur body contours. If used by cross-gender staff during exigent circumstances without the appropriate filters, the search must be documented under standard 115.15(c).

Cross-Gender Supervision