Final settlement of a strip-search lawsuit brought against Philadelphia means 5,321 people will each get compensation of $100 or $1,400, and the attorneys representing them will share $1.7 million in fees.
Philadelphia agreed this year to settle for $5.9 million the challenge to its policy of strip-searching all new inmates. The suit covered the years between 2003 and 2007 and encompassed about 37,000 people.
The city, which admitted no wrongdoing, now typically makes use of metal detectors and noninvasive techniques to find contraband. Some strip searches are still performed.
A mass mailing and television and newspaper advertising campaign were launched to find people eligible for compensation.
Ultimately, 7,647 claims were submitted, of which 5,353 are eligible for awards.
"For a case like this, it was good, just because not everyone is still at the residence that was provided to the prison," lead attorney Daniel C. Levin said.
People jailed on misdemeanor or nonviolent charges will get $1,400, and those jailed on more serious charges will get $100. There are 2,509 people in the first category and 2,844 in the second.
The attorneys' fees were approved by U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin. The sum, which amounts to 30 percent of the settlement, will go to the team of lawyers headed by Levin, of Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman.
The lawyers calculated that they spent 2,877.65 hours on the case.
Until 2007, Philadelphia's six prisons strip-searched all new inmates, even those held overnight who had no bail money.
The procedure typically included visual "cavity searches," requiring suspects to squat and bend over.
Levin's firm got involved after receiving complaints from its clients.
McLaughlin ruled that the lawyers' fees were justified by the risk, complexity, and length of the case.
"We take these cases with a risk that we won't get paid," Levin said. "We could litigate these cases for three or four years, we put out all the money, we devote our time . . . [and] if you lose, you don't get paid at all," he said.
"People only see the cases where you are successful," he added.
People arrested on drug or weapons charges still can be strip-searched. But for most minor offenders, city prisons now use metal scanners and mechanical drug sniffers to check for hidden contraband.
Outside Philadelphia, a 2007 Inquirer investigation found a wide disparity in the practice, with some areas rarely strip-searching, and others stripping all incoming inmates.