Government Technology

County Jails Deploy Whole-Body Scanners to Detect Hidden Weapons or Contraband

Full-body scan
Full-body scanners can spot minute amounts of contraband material. In this image, the scanner detected wire entwined in an inmate’s hair and drugs concealed in his socks.

April 27, 2011 By

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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Jeff Buske    |    Commented April 28, 2011

This same technology is in US and UK airports. Not all radiation is the same, comparing non-ionzing cell phone (800-1900 Mhz), Hard high energy gamma cosmic rays, or random background radiation is the same as focused soft airport backscatter or in this case forward scatter (transmission) x-rays is very dishonest. The deployment of thousands of security scanners and the use of ionizing (x-ray) radiation for general security is a public health risk. Backscatter machines scans an invisible intense collimated pencil beam of x-rays head to toe, delivering a large instantiations does to the eyes, skin, breast, thyroid, ovaries and testicles. Although the average dose to the “whole body volume” is relatively small the dose to soft tissues eyes, skin, breast, thyroid, ovaries and testicles is 10-20x greater than the internal organs. Want to learn more? google search: "Airport-Back-scatter-Scanner-Dose-Explained" and or "How-penetrating-are-airport-back-scatter-x-rays"

agree    |    Commented April 28, 2011

Our society has a legal obligation to abandon 'security' measures which directly contribute to the radiation of innocent/guilty without discrimination. There is a reason you don't get an X-ray every time to go to the doctor for a checkup. These things are dangerous, and anyone who says otherwise does not have the best wishes of the individual at heart.

Aiviq    |    Commented April 29, 2011

Worried that the radiation exposure from these machines is too dangerous? Ask yourself whether, if you were an inmate at a correction facility, you would rather be exposed to this low level radiation, or to a steel shank between the ribs? Or perhaps a roommate hopped up on PCP? I would probably just as soon take my chances with the x-ray.

capecodjim    |    Commented April 29, 2011

They need this technology so the prison employees can maintain their monopoly on contraband. The pervs are prolly sad to see these machines take their fun away. Here's the latest headline: BOSTON -- Massachusetts corrections officer has been arrested on allegations that he attempted to smuggle heroin to sell to inmates at a medium-security prison near Boston.....

Ahmed Kazikian    |    Commented April 29, 2011

I'm guessing back-scatter radiation is not dangerous... Fine. I still think we should always err on the side of caution when we don't know for sure, because science has a nasty way of finding dangerous effects years and decades later. We still can't even get consensus on the safety of cell phones. We've all but proven they can't cause cancer - but imagine if they did, and 30 years from now we all had cancer? But here the risk outweighs the benefits, so we have no good reason to delay the full adoption of cell-phones... or microwaves or wi-fi... most likely none of this is dangerous. Same with backscatter scanners... but these are not vital to our life the way cell-phones, microwaves, and wifi are. We can wait a few more years for a few more studies, no? (Not even to discuss the other argument - they don't even work that well)

JB    |    Commented May 13, 2011

You can only wait so long (decades, it seems, as Ahmed proposes) to use technology before you have a guard or inmate killed from a contraband weapon that was not detected by such a technology, not to mention potential lawsuits by ambulance chasing attorneys. Check out the lawsuit that Cook County had to pay for the strip-searches performed on inmates and lawyers cried foul. This technology looks out for the safety of all parties involved in the jails, not to mention the taxpayers having to pay for potential pricey lawsuits and wrongful deaths.

Qivia    |    Commented July 21, 2011

You've been duped. Really? you really think that applying that same excuse re-worded is your answer?

Tpp    |    Commented September 15, 2011

I honestly believe it’s just a matter of time before this technology will be in every airport terminal in the country. Of course it will be controversial, but not the main issue. The real issue will be if TSA has a legal or ethical obligation to tell the (willing or unwilling) participant what they discovered during the course of clearing their alarm. TSA: “Sir, you are free to go and you might want to see your doctor.” Passenger: “WHY!!!” TSA: “Well Sir, it’s like this, the scanner is only able to differentiate between a mass placed in your colon verses one growing in your colon. That’s as much as I can tell you… Have A Good Flight!”

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