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Strip Searching 'Overused' In WA Prisons

Routine, excessive strip searching of inmates at West Australian prisons is harmful and ineffective at finding contraband while visitors are also being inappropriately examined, an independent review has found.

The belief that strip-searching deterred people from hiding contraband lacked credible evidence, the WA Inspector of Custodial Services report into the practice released on Thursday found.

Inspector Neil Morgan said only three per cent of searches were based on intelligence or reasonable suspicion, and strip searching could potentially be harmful.

"Many people in custody - probably the majority - have experienced trauma from physical, emotional, and sexual victimisation and abuse," he said.

"The humiliation and degradation of a strip search can cause further harm.

"The department recognises the harm to women but has not given equal attention to the harm to men."

Mr Morgan said more than 2000 prison visitors had been strip searched in the past five years.

That included 374 children, half of whom were under the age of four, but none had contraband items.

Almost 900,000 prisoners were strip searched in the same period but only 571 items were found, most of which were not weapons on related to drugs, Mr Morgan added.

But Corrective Services Commissioner Tony Hassall said 11 per cent were weapons or other harmful items, while 28 per cent were drugs or drug paraphernalia.

The commissioner defended routine strip searching, saying it was used to maintain order and security.

"We will continue to use strip searching as a deterrent to stop contraband entering our prisons," Mr Hassall said.

He said all strip searches were conducted with dignity, respect and courtesy.

A family member was present for searches involving children, he added.

Mr Morgan said he hoped the department's review would lead to routine strip searching being phased out but was surprised the department did not support trialling new technology.

"It is odd that metal detectors and body scanners are now routine screening requirements at airports, courts and many government buildings, but not in our prisons," he said.


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