The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan confirmed today that the Michigan Department of Corrections has abandoned the routine implementation of a degrading body cavity search in which prisoners at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) were forced to spread open their labia using their hands, often under unsanitary conditions and sometimes in full view of other prisoners.

The ACLU, along with a broad coalition of human rights, health and religious groups, sent a letter to Daniel Heyns, the head of the Michigan Department of Corrections, voicing concern about the searches and demanding a change to the department’s search policies.

Over 60 prisoners had written to the ACLU, some as recently as last week, describing being subjected to a procedure in which they were forced to remove all of their clothing and use their hands to spread open their vaginas as a prison guard watched. The searches were conducted every time the prisoners met with visitors, prompting some to avoid visiting with family members to avoid the search.

“There was no reason to make this incredibly invasive procedure part of the routine strip search,” said Mie Lewis, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The new policy eliminates the worst aspects of the body search, helping to preserve these women’s dignity while maintaining a safe prison environment.”

“Many women in the prison population have been victims of sexual abuse, so it was very concerning that they were being asked to expose themselves in such a manner whenever they had a visitor,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We’re glad the Department of Corrections recognizes that prisoners should not be denied their basic human rights when they’re incarcerated.”