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BOP X-Ray Machine Installations a $4 Million Failure

Contraband is a constant problem in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, and although some of it is just a nuisance -- tobacco, alcohol, and creatine, for instance -- it constitutes a potentially serious threat in higher-security institutions when guns, knives and drugs are introduced.  Unfortunately, a $4 million investment in 65 X-ray machines to scan goods coming into prisons from the outside has not eliminated the problem.

Like many governmental agencies, the BOP often appears to be more proficient in gaining funding for new equipment than in following through to make sure that its staff is properly trained in operating it, and making sure that it actually does what it is supposed to do.

The BOP’s purchase of these expensive but under-utilized devices X-ray machines recently earned it the Washington Times’ “Golden Hammer” designation, awarded to a government agency guilty of waste of taxpayer funds.

According to the Department of Justice’s inspector general’s office, “The purchased X-ray machines are limited in their capacity to effectively scan many of the items which (the BOP) facilities receive.”  That is, if the BOP has even bothered to actually install the machines at their facilities.

Investigators found that 64 percent of prison officials were ”dissatisfied,” with what the machines could actually detect. Unlike the machines used to examine baggage and carry-on items at airports, the larger BOP machines were supposed to be able to scan large pallets of incoming shipments of good coming into the prison. Prison officials noted that the machines were not able to completely scan densely-packed pallets, and some prisons decided to disconnect them and continue to search shipments by hand.

The BOP reacted to the Justice Department investigation by making sure that all regional administrators were trained on the machines and instructed to periodically investigate their usage at institutions under their supervision.  The BOP also sent a memo to its prisons, stating that the new machines were, ”intended to enhance,not replace existing security policies.” In certain instances, this meant that prison staff had to sub-divide incoming shipments into smaller lots that the machines could properly X-ray.

Of course, there is the matter of the ten machines that were never installed or used by prison staff, sitting unused for six months to a year before they were even activated. In fact, two of the machines were found to have never been installed, more than 2 years after their date of purchase.


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