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California Irradiates Prison Visitors

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has installed nine high-tech X-ray scanners in six prisons and has plans to install them throughout the 33-prison system. The devices, based on "back-scatter" X-ray technology, are used to search visitors. The machine produces a crude image of visitors' bodies without their clothing.

"I think it's absolutely outrageous," said Sacramento attorney Rita Barker, who regularly visits San Quentin. "You know how careful doctors and dentists are about X-rays; they don't take them unnecessarily. For the state to subject us to this is unconscionable."

Nicolet Imaging Systems, which makes the "Secure 1000", says it can detect nonmetallic objects such as concealed money, syringes, narcotics, and ceramic explosives. The machines, which sell for $116,000 each, are safe. The company maintains the machines are safe, claiming the amount of radiation exposure is equivalent "to being alive 14 minutes on the planet."

Radiation experts from the state Department of Health have inspected the devices in San Diego, where they are manufactured, but say they need to further study the design and operation of the equipment before reaching any conclusions.

The same devices were tested in North Carolina prisons in a pilot program that ended in October, 1997.

"We wouldn't use it on our staff because it is very intrusive," said Capt. Marshall Hudson, coordinator of the pilot project at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. "If a female stood in front of it, it would show her bra, her panty line; [with] a male it would show just about everything he's got. We didn't like it... it may have worked as a deterrent... but [it] is a very expensive deterrent."

Corrections Digest

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