California corrections officials on Friday said they are investigating whether guards at a Southern California prison improperly watched video of female inmates being strip-searched.
The investigation arose after the husband of an inmate, during a visit earlier this month, noticed about six male and female guards gathered around a video monitor in the reception area for prison visitors.
The black-and-white monitor showed female guards searching women in a nearby room typically used for visitation.
"It's totally nude," said Rick Stachowicz, describing what he saw on the monitors. "They're standing on their socks, reaching for the ceiling, lifting up their breasts. I was trying to look and not look."
His wife, Christina, is in the California Institution for Women in Corona for a probation violation. She was among the women searched Feb. 2, when he said the guards were gathered around the video monitor.
"She's feeling progressively violated by it," Stachowicz said.
Under corrections department rules, strip-searches are to be performed in private and are not allowed to be watched on a video monitor. Female inmates also must be searched by female guards.
Stachowicz complained to prison authorities and received an e-mail Feb. 4 from Capt. Dean Borders, who was responding on behalf of prison Warden Dawn Davison.
"This behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the administration," Borders wrote. "We pride ourselves on being the model for other female institutions to follow, and to have this occur in our visiting area is unfathomable."
He apologized and said the matter was being investigated and that staff would be dealt with appropriately.
Borders said the visiting room would no longer be used for strip-searches. Since the complaint, inmates are being searched in restrooms or attorney conference rooms that are not under camera surveillance.
The video monitor also was moved from a table in the public reception area to a private office.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said investigators have so far found no indication of wrongdoing after getting statements from guards and visitors.
The guards reported they only became aware that the images of the naked women were being shown on the monitor after Stachowicz brought it to their attention.
"No one was standing around watching this. It was 'Oh my gosh, the monitor was on,"' Thornton said.
Stachowicz said he and his wife are considering suing the corrections department even though prison officials say they have made changes. He belongs to an advocacy group that lobbies for improvements in state prisons.
His wife was sentenced to prison last year for a probation violation and is scheduled for release in several months.
The 2,100-inmate prison 37 miles east of Los Angeles is one of three women's prisons in the state.