By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit challenging a Missouri jail's policy of forcing pretrial detainees to remain naked for several hours while their only set of clothes is in the laundry.
By a 3-0 vote, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said detainees at the Cole County Detention Center in Jefferson City, Missouri plausibly alleged that the laundry policy amounted to unconstitutional punishment.
Though detainees receive bed sheets and blankets during the seven-hour overnight laundry process, their uncovered cell windows allow cellmates and guards, including members of the opposite sex, to see them naked when not covered by bedding.
Clothes are washed every four days for women and every two to three days for men. Jail policy prohibits detainees from wearing their own clothes.
Writing for the appeals court, Circuit Judge Lavenski Smith said there was no "magic moment" in time when being forced to go without clothes could amount to a constitutional violation. But he rejected a lower court finding that the jail's policy was a reasonable means to promote cleanliness and hygiene.
The policy "does not explain why the jail is unable to stock and wash enough clothes to avoid extended periods without clothing on a more or less permanent basis," Smith rote.
"While there is no general right not to be seen naked by guards of the opposite sex, and a detainee's expectation of privacy is of a diminished scope, detainees are still entitled to clothing," he added.
Lawyers for Cole County and its sheriff did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for the detainees did not immediately respond to similar requests.
The case was returned to U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey in Jefferson City, who had ruled against the detainees in November 2015, for further proceedings.
The case is Ingram et al v. Cole County et al, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-1046.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)