Strip Searching Juveniles

Increasing numbers of juvenile offenders in Lane County’s youth detention center have been strip searched despite a court ruling limiting the practice 

Juvenile offenders in Lane County’s youth detention center have been forced to undergo an increasing number of strip searches that advocates say violate the detainees’ civil rights.

Karen Stenard, administrator of the Lane County Juvenile Lawyers Association, says she and her colleagues have only recently learned about the growing number of detainees who report having been strip searched. 

“They need a very good reason to strip search,” says Stenard, who’s worked as a juvenile defense attorney for 25 years.

Stenard says she learned earlier this month that Youth Services, the county division that oversees the juvenile detention facility, had been operating under a blanket policy of strip searching detainees when they returned from routine in-house court hearings and visits with their attorneys. 

In 2010, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Yamhill County had violated juvenile detainees’ constitutional rights by automatically subjecting them to strip searches after onsite, face-to-face meetings with attorneys.

Following that ruling, the state set clear rules about when strip searches of juvenile detainees are permitted. The Oregon Juvenile Detention Facility Guidelines say strip searches — officially known as “comprehensive searches”— are permitted when detainees enter the facility.

The state guidelines say strip searches are otherwise allowed only when officials have a “reasonable suspicion” that the detainee has contraband, such as a weapon or drugs, or an item that could cause harm.

“When staff search youth who are returning from court, school, another facility, visits on the premises, or who have been otherwise continuously supervised, they do so by a pat-down, metal detector or clothing search,” the guidelines say.

Stenard says she launched protests to state and county officials after learning about the practice. She says she met with county officials, including Greg Rikhoff, director of the Lane County Community Justice and Rehabilitation Services, which oversees Youth Services and the detention center.

According to Stenard, Rikhoff told her he was surprised that attorneys representing juveniles didn’t know about the policy to strip search detainees “after every court appearance.”

Stenard says she now believes “certain staff people were doing it [strip searches] every time and other staff people were doing it sometimes.” Stenard says she has no idea how many strip searches took place without meeting the “reasonable suspicion” test. 

Stenard says officials have told her that the county’s own lawyers have since told Youth Services to halt the practice. 

Rikhoff confirms to Eugene Weekly that Youth Services has stopped the practice. In an email, Rikhoff says that the county has now decided “pat down searches are sufficient and appropriate for youth returning from court or meetings with legal counsel or others.” 

Rikhoff also says the county is purchasing a body scanner — similar to airport security — that should be up in running in a few weeks and do away with the need for most strip searches. 

He says Youth Services increased the frequency of strip searches after officials recently found banned items in youth detainees’ cells. “We’re certainly stepping up having found a couple of things in individuals’ rooms that somehow got through,” Rikhoff says. “I think it stepped up concerns, but we’ve been pretty consistent about the need for what we call ‘comprehensive searches.’”

Patti Robb, interim manager of Youth Services, which oversees the detention facility, says the items found have included screws, pieces of glass, paperclips and other items that detainees can use to hurt others or themselves.

Robb also confirms the detention center has stopped the practice. “We’re going to pause and receive training on that and then make a determination on if we need to make a change or not based on what we learn after training,” Robb says. “So we wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to learn more.”

But questions about the county’s strip search policy remain.

State rules require that Lane County have a written policy about strip searches of juvenile detainees. Robb says the county established a policy in 2017. 

EW asked for a copy of the policy, but Robb declined to make it public. Stenard also says she asked for a copy of the policy but has received nothing from county officials.

The youth facility has 16 beds and is located in the county’s Juvenile Justice Center building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard across from Autzen Stadium.

Stenard says many youth in detention have faced sexual abuse, and the very nature of strip searches — which can include examinations of a detainee’s breasts, buttocks, or genitalia — can retraumatize the detainees.

These youth detainees are “doing things that they shouldn’t do, but they’re often like the saddest, most vulnerable people in the community,” Stenard says. 

“The reason I’ve done this work for as long as I have,” she adds, “is I think kids are often treated with fewer rights and less respect than adults, which to me is the opposite of how it should be.”

This story was developed in partnership with the Local Reporting Initiative of the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. To learn more, visit