AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Human Rights Commission has ruled that the Lincoln County jail can require female guards to work night shifts so that a woman is available to conduct strip searches of female prisoners.

Three female guards at the jail had filed a complaint after Jail Administrator Capt. Brian Lawrence had initiated a policy mandating that at least one of them be on duty for each of three shifts.

The commission voted 3-2 Monday in favor of the jail. They ruled that the right of the guards to use their seniority to choose which shift they work is outweighed by the jail’s need to have a female guard available to comply with state regulations that require searches to be conducted by guards of the same sex.

Commissioners said guards or prisoners could be put at risk while waiting for a guard to come in to conduct a strip search if an inmate is hiding contraband.

“What the captain was trying to do was what we want people to do in corrections,” said Commissioner Paul Vestal Jr., a former prison warden. “It’s not a matter of just calling people in (to strip search a female prisoner). Waiting that long could be dangerous. You can wind up with an overdose in your jail before you get a chance to strip search someone.”

After the complaint was filed, the commission’s investigator found reasonable grounds that the policy discriminated against the guards. Monday’s vote was a rare instance of the commission going against the recommendations of its investigator.

The guards who filed the complaint argued that strip searches occur infrequently at the Wiscasset jail, that the current system of calling in female guards when needed works fine, and that there are not enough female guards to fill all shifts when any one of them goes on vacation anyway. They said they are being forced to work undesirable shifts just because they are women.

“Male officers with a lot less seniority were being given a lot more options than me,” said Janet Robinson, a corrections officer in Lincoln County since 1995.

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