Portland jail tells female attorneys to remove detector-triggering bras before seeing clients

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Several female defense attorneys are upset with a new policy at the Cumberland County Jail that requires them to remove their underwire bras before they can meet with their clients.

The Portland Press Herald reported that the women were told the policy was instituted because the bras have been setting off the jail's metal detector.

"It's absolutely outrageous," said attorney Amy Fairfield, who learned of the policy when she went to the jail Sept. 10.

Fairfield said Friday that she went to the jail last week to meet with a client and was turned away by a Cumberland County sheriff's deputy when her bra set off the metal detector and she refused to remove it.

"He said, 'Are you wearing an underwire bra? Might I suggest you go to the bathroom and take that off?' " Fairfield recalled. "I said, 'I will not. I am completely offended at that notion.'"

Fairfield said she has been asked in the past to take off her bracelets, rings and hairclip at the jail, but had never been stopped at the metal detector because of her bra.

Fairfield said the deputy told her that the new policy had been imposed by the jail administrator, Maj. John Costello. She said she tried to contact Costello, but he hasn't returned her phone message.

"They are just inviting a lawsuit," Fairfield said. "It's discriminatory, it's harassing and it's a constitutional issue."

Fairfield said denying her access to meet with her client in jail violated her client's constitutional rights.

Fairfield said she reported the policy this week to Justice Roland Cole, the chief judge of Maine's Superior Court, and wrote a letter to Sheriff Kevin Joyce on Thursday.

Joyce said in a phone interview Friday that it isn't jail policy to make women take off their bras, but he said the metal detector policy was made more stringent several months ago.

Joyce said he had not yet received Fairfield's letter, but did get a message from another attorney and will review the policy.

"We have a policy that everyone is put through the metal detector. What I'm hearing from the major (Costello) is that at least three (attorneys) tried to come in and had metal somewhere," Joyce said.

He said the more restrictive metal detector policy had not come up as an issue until this week.

"There is no way (for a metal detector) to differentiate people with underwire bras and someone bringing in a gun," the sheriff said.

Marilyn Thaxter, a spokeswoman for CEIA-USA, the manufacturer of the detector used at the jail, said it's not typical – but not unprecedented – for a small amount of metal to set off a detector.

Thaxter couldn't determine Friday which of the company's detectors is used at the Cumberland County Jail, but said almost all of its detectors can be adjusted for sensitivity. For security, a jail's detector would be set at a very high sensitivity to detect most metals coming in, she said, but could distinguish between items such as a ring and a larger piece of metal, such as a gun or a knife.

A customer can consult with CEIA to change a detector's sensitivity, if needed, Thaxter said.

It wasn't clear Friday night whether other women visiting the jail had been asked to remove their underwire bras before being allowed in to see inmates.


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