Increasing Number of Jails, Prisons Using Full-body Digital Scanners
In 2012, the Hamilton County Jail in southwest Ohio was the first jail in the state to purchase a SecurPass full-body digital scanner, using a $243,000 federal grant. Thereafter, prisoners at the facility were subjected to scans in addition to strip searches during intake. Jail officials reported the device revealed a small gun, a screwdriver, pocket knives, balloons filled with drugs and numerous other hidden items. But in August 2013 the Ohio Health Department ordered the county to stop using the scanner. Why? A state administrative code prohibits the use of X-ray devices unless prescribed by a physician.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil believes the code is out-of-date and should be modernized to take into account digital scanner technology. SecurPass claims the scans present no health hazard due to the low amount of radiation used. It takes only 8 seconds for a scanner to complete a full-body scan, which adds about a minute to the booking process.
Tessie Pollock, spokesperson for the Department of Health, said the Sheriff’s office could apply for a waiver, but had not done so. She stated the department is willing to consider updating the rules but must regulate all machines that emit ionizing radiation.
“This is a safety and security issue for our employees, for the inmates, for everyone,” said Sheriff Neil. “I’m going to use every resource available to ensure we know what is coming into our jail.”
Officials in Stark County, Ohio announced their intention to procure a $208,058 full-body scanner from SecurPASS in December 2015. Other counties, including Champaign, Cuyahoga, Madison and Union, have already procured or are in the process of obtaining their own body scanners.
According to a 2014 news report, 171 full-body scanners that were removed from airports because they displayed nude images of passengers were offered to prisons and jails at a fraction of their original cost under a federal surplus property program. The Transportation Security Administration said most of the scanners had been sent to law enforcement agencies in Arkansas, New York and Michigan.
As of the end of 2015, SecurPASS scanners were in use at over 200 jails and prisons across the country. That included the Pinellas County Jail in southern Florida, where a RAD PRO SecurPASS scanning machine was purchased for $215,000 and went online in June 2013. The jail has been scanning all new prisoners during the booking process, and also scanned all prisoners who had arrived before the scanner went into operation.
“In the last 12 months, there were 158 separate contraband incidents detected at the booking process,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, noting that firearms, knives, a handcuff key, counterfeit money, drugs and drug paraphernalia were detected by the scanner.
In one incident, Clearwater Police Department detectives charged a man with burglary and tampering with evidence after a scan during booking at the Pinellas County Jail revealed that he had swallowed necklaces taken from a residence. The suspect had been found in a car that was stolen during the burglary; the necklaces were surgically removed at a hospital and identified by the owner.
The Hancock County Jail in Indiana has also installed a body scanner from Rapiscan to aid with the booking process. Although it only scans externally, the device allows staff to bypass manual searches. Strip searches are intrusive and can be traumatic for former victims of sexual assault. No longer faced with mandatory strip searches, prisoners may be more inclined to participate in substance abuse counseling and other programs offered by the jail, argued Amber Wolfrom with the Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.
However, full-body scanners emit ionizing radiation, and their use in jails and prison are not overseen by medical personnel. Repeated exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation can cause injury and increase the risk of cancer. Thus, it is only reasonable that such devices be tested for the dosage of radiation they emit and regulated to the same extent as medical X-ray machines. Rapiscan claims that full-body scans are less harmful than eating a banana, since bananas contain potassium-40, an isotope that is slightly radioactive.
But given a choice, most prisoners would likely pick the banana over the scanner.
Sources: Associated Press, www.greenfieldreporter.com, www.cincinnati.com, www.pcsoweb.com, www.thecourier.com, www.cantonrep.com, Los Angeles Times