April 27, 2011 By Elaine Pittman
Strip searches conducted at jails and correctional facilities are being revolutionized — and the “strip” portion is being dropped altogether. In a traditional strip search, offenders remove all of their clothing and officers of the same sex verify that the person isn’t smuggling weapons or other types of contraband, like drugs, into the facility. The 21st-century search, however, uses new full-body scanning technology that detects contraband hidden inside and on an offender’s body in about seven seconds — while requiring that they remove only their shoes.
Full-body scanners have been in use for years by airports and corrections departments to search for metal concealed on individuals, but an emerging technology enhances body scans by identifying metallic and organic materials.
In March, the Collier County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office began using a new scanner to prevent offenders from smuggling drugs into the jail. “People are putting prescription narcotics in their body cavities, and it’s a very difficult thing to locate with just a traditional strip search,” said Capt. Beth Richards.
In Florida, body cavity searches require a court order, she said, so the Sheriff’s Office was interested when it learned about a tool that automatically detects hidden drugs and weapons. The RadPro SecurPass, manufactured by Canon U.S.A. Inc., uses transmission imaging to conduct a virtual body scan. The inmate stands on an automated platform that moves him or her through the machine, which scans the body with a one mm-thick radiation beam, according to Dennis Wolfe, national sales manager of security products for Virtual Imaging Inc., a Canon subsidiary.
As the beam passes through the inmate’s body, and the system measures how much density is left in the beam. The information is then processed and relayed to a computer that reconstructs the image. Officers operating the system study the rendering of the inmate to see if anything looks out of place.
“It’s like you’re looking at an X-ray,” Richards said. “You’re looking straight through their body, so if there’s something there that normally wouldn’t be in your body, that God didn’t give you, it jumps out at you.”
Richards said the system shows officers something as minute as a filling in someone’s tooth. If an officer sees something that looks suspicious, the inmate is strip-searched to determine what the object is.
Although the system scans a person’s entire body inside and out, it doesn’t show as much soft tissue detail as the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) scanners. So inmates’ privacy is protected because facial features aren’t shown.
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