Stateville prison guard reassigned after "outrageous" security stop

CREST HILL, IL -- Stateville Correctional Center in suburban Will County has been called the world's toughest prison, housing 4,000 of the worst male criminals. Visitors must be "dressed appropriately" or they are not allowed in.

Now there are questions about common sense, involving a veteran stenographer who had a double mastectomy but was called out by guards and then thrown out for not wearing a bra, despite dressing very conservatively for a recent deposition at the prison.

"The female guard proceeded to search me and was feeling my back and was feeling it in a rubbing way, and she said to me, 'You're not wearing a bra?'" recalls Stephanie Battaglia.

Battaglia had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery 10 years ago. She says she dressed very conservatively in July when she arrived for an official meeting with a Stateville administrator.

"I don't need to wear a bra," says. "I can't wear a bra and she said, 'Well I can't let you in.' I said, 'No, I can't wear a bra because I have nerve damage from the surgery, from when I had the mastectomy.'"

Battaglia said even after the guard called a supervisor and explained her medical history she was still denied access to a conference room, away from any prisoners, for a court deposition.

Illinois Department of Corrections visitation rules state: "All visitors must be dressed appropriately for a prison environment. Clothing must be in good taste. All visitors must wear underwear and female visitors must wear a bra."

The I-Team saw dozens of women pass through security to visit inmates. Some would argue not all of them were dressed "appropriately."

Len Cavise is emeritus professor of law at DePaul University. He's been to Stateville dozens of times and said the searches are arbitrary.

"You take the spectrum of possible searches and I've had experiences along all ends of that spectrum and my students have, too," Cavise said. "I had one year where there was a cavity search of one of our students."

Cavise said Battaglia never should have been treated so poorly.

"What has to happen here is that there has to be supervisors around and the supervisors have to understand what the word discretion means and that's never come easy to guards at Stateville," Cavise said. "There has to be consequences to outrageous behavior like this."

Battaglia had been to the prison many times, dressed similarly, never with a problem. This time she had no choice but to tell the attorney she was working for about her medical background.

"I was mortified that I was even talking about it," she said. "So I left and went to the Louis Joliet Mall which is about 15 minutes away and I purchased a sports bra."

Battaglia said she returned to the prison and endured another intense search before being allowed in.

She has filed this complaint with the Illinois Department of Corrections and the state Office of Executive Inspector General.

"It was inexcusable what they did. I have very thick skin and not much gets to me and I just felt absolutely violated with what she did," she said.

The employee has been reassigned, IDOC officials said Thursday.

Nicole Wilson, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman, released a statement:

The employee involved in the incident has been reassigned and we are taking steps to ensure staff receives additional training so we can better assist visitors that require special accommodations.

The Department of Corrections has established rules and regulations that are designed to promote orderly operations within our facilities while protecting the safety and security of our guests, staff, and inmates. However, we understand there is sometimes a need for special accommodations.

We apologize to Ms. Battaglia for her experience at Stateville and because this has been brought to our attention, we will review and adjust our policies accordingly.

Full IDOC Dress Code

All visitors must be dressed appropriately for a prison environment or the visit will not be permitted. Clothing must be in good taste and not advertise or suggest any items in such a manner to signify a Security Threat Group or other illegal activity. Visitors should not wear clothing that is sexually explicit, offensive, or degrading. All visitors must wear underwear and female visitors must wear a bra. Visitors should not wear clothing which reveals the buttocks or breasts.

Examples of inappropriate dress for visitors are: short shirts or dresses, wrap around skirts, see through clothing, see-through or low-cut blouses, tube tops, halter tops, tank tops, swim suits or swim suit tops, short shorts, clothing with "cutouts" or leggings. Dresses or skirts should extend to the knees.

Visitors may be permitted to wear religious headgear if there is no safety or security concerns, the headgear has been removed and thoroughly searched, the visitor has indicated that the headgear has religious significance, and the headgear is a kufi, yarmulke, turban, habit, or fez. Headgear other than those specified may be permitted to wear if a written request is submitted to the Chief Administrative Officer at least 10 days prior to the visit and the Chief Administrative Officer approves the request. Failure to submit a timely request shall result in denial of the request.
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