Tougher screening of Calif. visitors includes hand swabs, K-9s

California is set to implement some of the nation’s toughest protocols for access to state prisons in an attempt to reduce the flow of illegal drugs to inmates


By C1 Staff

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is set to implement some of the nation’s toughest protocols for access to state prisons in an attempt to reduce the flow of illegal drugs to inmates.

KCRA reports that the procedures include airport-style hand swabs and drug-sniffing dogs. Visitors will also be subject to strip searches if initial testing indicates that they have been in contact with illicit drugs.

Advocacy groups say the new procedures invade privacy and will discourage visitation.

Corrections officials replied that they are taking the steps to control a growing problem in California’s 34 adult prisons.

So far this year, the department has had 546 visitors arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle drugs and cellphones into prisons.

The state plans to spend at least $30,000 for each of the ion scanners that will be used to test the hand swabs. The machines are identical to those used by airport security to detect traces of explosive materials, but in this case they will be programmed to scan for traces of four drugs: marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

California plans to install at least two of the detectors at each state prison if funding permits. The emergency regulations are expected to go into effect on a test basis in October.

In addition to the ion detectors, each prison will also be equipped with machines that flash red or green for every person entering the prison. A red flash indicates that a person should be searched more thoroughly, and people are chosen at random.

Visitors or staff members who get the red light would either receive a hand swab or would be sniffed by dogs trained to detect traces of drugs.

Visitors flagged for potential possession will be subject to strip searches, though they can also walk away rather than undergo the procedure.

Advocacy groups say the policy relies on two methods that sometimes create false-positives, and say the BOP abandoned its use of the ion detector in 2008 due to unreliability.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association supports the corrections department’s efforts to prevent smuggling, according to a spokesperson for the union.

The new rules will be subject to 160 days of public comment before they become permanent.

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