Jail victims await justice

or Katrina Mack, the clock began ticking five years ago yesterday.

On March 5, 1998, she was arrested for operating under the influence. When she was taken to the Nashua Street Jail, she was subjected to something that was common procedure at the time - a demeaning, humiliating, and completely unnecessary strip search.

''Emotionally, it affects you,'' Mack said yesterday. ''There isn't going to be a day that goes by that I don't think about it.''

Mack had a lot of company. Between 1995 and 1999, more than a thousand women, many of them in jail overnight on relatively minor charges, were forced to submit to such searches. Male inmates were not.

Mack became one of the driving forces in a class-action suit that led to a $10 million settlement with the Suffolk County sheriff's office and the city of Boston. But justice has proved elusive. While the city forked over its half of the money months ago, it sits in escrow while the scandal-plagued sheriff's office has cried poor. None of the 1,600 plaintiffs has seen a dime. US District Judge Nancy Gertner ordered Sheriff Andrea Cabral to cough up the money, with interest, ''forthwith'' last week, but that hasn't been enough to produce any movement.<br /> <br /> How could this happen? <br /> <br /> Cabral's predecessor, Richard D. Rouse, supposedly made a deal last fall with the Swift administration to fund the settlement. Unfortunately, Rouse left office the day the money was due, and the Swift administration ceased to exist not long thereafter.<br /> <br /> Under Gertner's order, the plaintiffs can eventually begin to sell off Sheriff's Department property to pay their claim. Think of those auctions last fall to fund Clean Elections, and then think of trying to raise twice as much money that way. Chaos is a word that comes to mind.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the women who were searched wait for what they were promised. Howard Friedman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the department should never have entered into an agreement if it didn't intend to fulfill its obligation. He mostly blames Rouse for failing to follow through.<br /> <br /> ''Sheriff Cabral's in a tough spot,'' he said. ''She's stuck between a rock and a hard place. I would suggest she could borrow the money at a much lower interest rate.''<br /> <br /> This is a sad but fitting coda to the Rouse Era. Not a word of his so-called deal with the state to fund the settlement seems to exist anywhere on paper, and the plaintiffs wait for what is legally theirs. About what one might expect in the fallout from a regime that was forced out amid revelations of sweeping wrongdoing.<br /> <br /> The sheriff's office is in a genuinely difficult position. Like all agencies, its budget - now $88 million, down from $100 million a few years ago - is sure to shrink further. The state is in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in years. There is no obvious place to turn for the money.<br /> <br /> Yesterday, Cabral tried to punt. She wrote a letter to Mayor Thomas M. Menino informing him that the city has historically borne the brunt of such settlements, and should in this case as well. She declined to comment yesterday on the letter.<br /> <br /> Menino wasn't having any of it. He noted that the city had already paid its $5 million. He also said he has no obligation to pay the other $5 million and no intention of doing so.<br /> <br /> The mayor said he believes the state is obligated to make good on the settlement immediately if, he adds, they made the agreement with Rouse to pay it. Despite the state's budget woes, he is right.<br /> <br /> ''They say they want to settle, and here we are many months later and nothing has been done,'' a frustrated Mack said yesterday. ''You just want to move on and it's still lingering. Justice has been done, but this is the last piece of the puzzle.'' <br /> <br /> Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]</p> <FORM ACTION="" METHOD=POST name=CloseWindow><P align="center"> <FONT FACE="Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif">   </FONT><input type="button" value="Close Window" onclick="window.close()" style="color: #FFFFFF; font-weight: bold; background-color: #0000FF; border-style: outset"></FORM> <!-- Stop Content Here --> </body> </html>