PROTESTANTS and Catholics have joined in protest at strip searching in Northern Ireland's prisons.
A group called CRSS (Christian Response to Strip Searching) have published a report on the issue and have called the practice "immoral and an affront to the Christian conscience". The work of CRSS has been commended by Bishop Edward Daly and Pax Christi.
The group's investigation focused on strip searching in the women's prison in Armagh, where it found that this kind of searching can be a traumatic experience, with some women likening it to rape.
Strip searching was introduced in 1982 and the Under Secretary for Northern Ireland has described it as "a big contribution to prison security".
According to the Northern Ireland Office, a strip search involves the removal of all clothing in a cubicle, and a brief visual examination during which the prisoner may wear a prisonmade top and skirt or a sheet,
But the report from CRSS points out that no significant weapons or contraband have been found in strip searches in Armagh or Maghaberry Prison and that the searching is actually counter-productive as it serves to poison the atmosphere and turns prisoners against prison officers.
The group recommended that strip searching should go the way of treadmills and flogging, and that it should not be acceptable in a civilised society. It conluded: "We have come to believe that strip searching is ultimately an enemy of security".