Protecting prisoners' privacy rights

On August 11, 2020, the en banc Seventh Circuit held in Henry v. Hulett that the Fourth Amendment – which prohibits unreasonable search and seizures – applies to visual strip searches of prisoners, reversing a district court decision previously stating that incarcerated women maintain no right to privacy during these inspections of their bodies.

Our team filed a brief, as a “friend of the court,” in support of a petition for rehearing en banc in 2020 after a Seventh Circuit panel heard the case. When the en banc court vacated the divided panel’s opinion and took up the case, we renewed our efforts with a second brief on behalf of national and state advocacy organizations committed to ending domestic violence.

The organizations we worked with on behalf of the brief included the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, End Domestic Violence Wisconsin, the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In a majority opinion joined by 10 fellow members of the court, Judge Amy St. Eve wrote “… [t]he privacy interest in one’s body is clearly a heightened and fundamental one …,” acknowledging that “… while prison security requires officials to constantly monitor prisoners’ cells, the same is not true of their unclothed persons.” With its holding that the Fourth Amendment protects an inmate’s right to bodily privacy in visual inspections, the Seventh Circuit came to the same conclusion that every other circuit did that addressed the question.

You can read more about this case in Bloomberg Law.

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