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Ion Spectrometry Scans Resume at BOP Facilities

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has restarted its ion spectrometry program. In April 2008, the BOP suspended the use of all its ion spectrometry machines to screen prison visitors for drugs after lawsuits and complaints cast doubt on the reliability of the devices. [See: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.11].

Grandmothers, children and other family members were routinely turned away from visiting their loved ones when the ion spectrometry machines were in use. False-positives for the presence of illegal drugs were common, as hand-sanitizers and prescription medication set off the devices.

On March 24, 2009, the BOP reinstated the program following testing by the BOP’s Office of Security Technology. According to a memo from Joyce Conley, Assistant Director for the Correctional Programs Division, ion spectrometry equipment may now be used at all BOP institutions, but only for testing prisoner mail, prisoner belongings, lockers, work areas and visitation rooms.

Ion spectrometry equipment is not authorized for testing prisoners or their visitors for drug residue. Despite the memo, some institutions have reportedly started using the machines on visitors. For example, visitors at FCI Sandstone have stated guards are conducting random ion scans, and posts on indicate the machines are also being used on visitors at FCI Beckley and FCI Florence.


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