Legislation to Eliminate Twelve-Hour Hold for Strip Searches Passes

UPDATE: Governor Scott Walker signed this bill into law as 2015 Wisconsin Act 206 on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

On February 18, the Assembly concurred on legislation to remove the twelve-hour hold provision for strip searches. The legislation, Senate Bill 248, would remove the requirement that jail administrators hold detainees for 12 hours before being strip searched, if there is no probable cause to search them.

Last session, 2013 Wisconsin Act 317 (Act 317) expanded who may be strip searched. Pre-Act 317, a person may be strip searched if arrested for (1) any felony, (2) certain battery or weapons-related misdemeanors, or (3) any misdemeanor, any other violation of state law punishable by forfeiture, or any local ordinance if there is probable cause to believe the person is concealing a weapon or evidence of the offense for which he or she is detained.

Act 317 expanded who may be strip searched to a person arrested or otherwise lawfully detained or taken into custody if the person will be incarcerated, imprisoned, or otherwise detained in a jail or prison with one or more persons and meets other requirements in the law. However, an amendment was added that specified a detainee may be strip searched under the new category created by Act 317 only if the detainee will be incarcerated, imprisoned, or otherwise detained in the jail or prison for twelve or more hours.

This twelve-hour hold significantly impacted small jail facilities in Wisconsin. Many counties do not have the capacity to hold multiple individuals for twelve hours prior to moving them into cells with other incarcerated individuals. Holding cells are typically detached from the general population and are used for single individuals. In addition, especially in smaller jails, holding cells are utilized for multiple purposes, including during discharge and for medical and mental health reasons. Being required to hold detainees for 12 hours before introducing the detainee into the general population is not possible in many facilities. Therefore, many facilities had to introduce detainees who had not been thoroughly searched, into the general population.

The Senate passed SB 248 on January 20.