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California: Strip Searches of Prison Visitors No Longer Allowed

After just over a year of increased scrutiny for prison visitors, presumably to stem the flow of drugs and other contraband into California’s 35 state correctional facilities, prison officials announced in January 2016 that they would end the controversial practice of strip searching visitors who fail preliminary drug screens.

In November 2014, California’s prison system rolled out a program that placed drug-sniffing dogs and ion scanners at eleven facilities, to conduct random drug screens of visitors and employees. Funded by a $5.2 million grant for the airport-style scanners in addition to a pre-existing $3 million K9 program, the initiative imposed increasingly severe sanctions on visitors who failed drug dog screens or ion scans – including strip searches and loss of visits.

On January 11, 2016, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) spokeswoman Dana Simas said that pursuant to revised regulations, visitors will be screened by non-threatening drug alert dogs that sit when they detect contraband or by the use of ion scanner technology. Visitors who raise alerts will be subjected to clothed searches and forfeit a contact visit, whether or not drugs are found. If the search is refused, the visit will be canceled. For a second refusal, the CDCR will impose a 30-day loss of visiting privileges; a third could mean no visits for a year. Visitors who refuse a fourth search face permanent revocation of their visiting privileges.

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget includes nearly $8 million to cover the annual cost of intensive visitor drug screening at California prisons. Presumably the CDCR conducts similar searches of employees, who are a more likely source for smuggling in drugs and other contraband.

Sources: Los Angeles Times,

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