BROOKLYN (CN) - Rikers Island prison guards force incoming detainees to undergo gynecological exams or face isolation for refusing, despite a 2006 legal settlement that allows women to refuse the test without punishment, a Brooklyn woman claims in Federal Court.
Neshelle Pickett, 25, who had no previous arrest record, claims she was forced into a nonconsensual gynecological exam involving a vaginal speculum, a Pap smear and a pregnancy test after she was admitted to Rikers Island in June 2013 for a pre-trial conference to face bogus narcotics charges.
"It is a policy, practice and/or custom of the City of New York to coerce female inmates into submitting to unwanted gynecological exams by having [Department of Corrections] officers and medical staff threaten the women with medical isolation or solitary confinement," her lawsuit states.
Pickett says she was taken to Rikers Island because she couldn't post bail. She says she was taken to the Rose M. Singer Center there, the only one on the island housing female inmates.
She says she was strip searched and forced to undergo the gynecological exam with blood and urine tests.
She told an officer that she didn't want the exam, but was told that New York City policy was that all new inmates must submit to it or they will not get housing and will be placed in medical isolation with people with communicable diseases.
"After receiving these threats, plaintiff, having never before been to Rikers Island and terrified of being placed in medical isolation, involuntarily agreed to submit to the exam and signed whatever forms were put in front of her," she says.
Pickett claims that at no time did doctors tell her what the exam entailed, its purpose or that she had a legal right to refuse it.
Her attorney, Richard Cardinale, filed a federal class action lawsuit in 2002 challenging the Department of Corrections' practices of forcing gynecological exams on inmates. New York City and the DOC settled in 2006 and agreed to inform female inmates that they had the right to refuse the test without being punished.
"Apparently unhappy with the number of refusals, the defendants have reinstituted their policy ... of forcing gynecological examination upon female inmates despite having been made aware that such exams are unconstitutional," Pickett says in her complaint.
A spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene emphasized that gynecological exams or Pap smears are not required upon admission.
"The Health Department does not do routine gynecological exams or Pap smears on intake," the department said. "When these are offered during dedicated Women's Health visits, the patient has the right to refuse an exam without any consequences."
Pickett seeks damages for deprivation of due process and failing to intervene.
Named as defendants are the City of New York; Dora Schriro, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction; Corizon Correctional Healthcare; Prison Health Services; PHS Correctional Healthcare; and PHS Medical Services.