Woman's strip search described as `one-off'

THE strip search of a woman by a male prison guard, viewable by other officers, has been described as a "one-off".

However, the Justice Department declined to say whether all Tasmanian prisons now have operational "privacy cells" that limit who can watch a strip search from another room.

The guard who conducted the search has been reinstated with the Tasmanian Industrial Commission finding the lack of privacy at Hobart Reception Prison "potentially far more serious".

"The reality is ... that strip searches could [and perhaps still can] be readily viewed by officers in the control room without restriction or protocols applying," commission president Tim Abey said in his findings.

The commission heard a prison supervisor was fired in November after strip searching a female and making her squat.

Standard practice is for female guards to strip search women, but at the time there were none on duty.

There were also no policewomen available next door at central police station.

The supervisor could have contacted the Mary Hutchinson Women's Prison, but hadn't been told this during induction.

He said he took the woman into a room with cameras so he couldn't be accused of anything.

Prison strip searches are meant to be conducted in a "privacy cell".

These cells have cameras, but the footage is password-protected.

One of the allegations was the supervisor failed to search the woman in the "privacy cell".

But, an internal investigation found the "privacy cell" wasn't operational and the CCTV could be viewed without a password.

It was common knowledge among staff that there was no "privacy cell".

In the year to June the prison's guards conducted 1946 strips searches, 267 of them involving women - all potentially outside the "privacy cell".

The investigation found there were no specific protocols for monitoring a female being strip searched at the centre.

Shortly after the search in question a guard in the control room yelled to the custodial manager "you need to see this" before playing him the footage.

The manager watched half the tape and told the guard "not to show anyone that tape and get a copy of it". The incident was reported to management and the supervisor was subsequently fired after the investigation.

Mr Abey said the supervisor had made a "serious error of judgment" but found his dismissal unfair due to mitigating factors.

A department spokeswoman said the "privacy cell" at the prison has since been reactivated.

"The incident referred to in the TIC decision is a one-off situation not in keeping with strict Tasmania Prison Service protocols and the professional behaviour of correctional staff," she said.

"Strict procedures are in place to ensure the appropriate searching of all prisoners and detainees."