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3 facility considerations for inmate screening technology

Be sure to plan for how you will incorporate new tech into your screening process, where equipment will be located and where you will get funding to purchase the tools

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A walk-through body scanner placed where inmates enter and leave the facility for medical appointments or court appearances provides another opportunity for detecting contraband.

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By Melissa Mann for Corrections1 BrandFocus

Catching contraband before it enters your jail or prison facility must be approached in a multi-layered fashion in order to be effective. In addition to traditional pat-downs and physical searches, this strategy should include modern technology and tools like X-ray machines and body scanners to catch contraband at all possible entry points.

But adding new scanning technology is not as simple as purchasing a machine and plugging it in. You must carefully ponder where to place point-of-entry equipment to maximize its effectiveness, both physically and as part of your screening process. You must also secure funding to obtain new tools, whether from your jurisdictional resources or by pursuing grant funding.

This article will explore three key elements of planning for modern screening technology at the administrative level. These are especially important when designing a new facility or a facility upgrade or expansion.

1. Plan Your Screening Process

It’s critical to develop a layered screening strategy to catch contraband at all possible entry points. A variety of techniques and tools are available for scanning people, mail and parcels for contraband. Modern technology, such as X-ray, body scanning and trace detection, offers a broad range of capabilities for a layered approach that is both effective and efficient.

Many facilities have adopted body scanners for regular scanning of inmates as they enter. Your facility policy should dictate the frequency of scanning for inmates, depending on housing status, visitation or potential release. Many facilities have also adopted X-ray technology and trace detection to screen deliveries and search cells. These tools enable a faster and more thorough means for contraband detection than manual inspections and require less staffing resources.

Facilities looking to enhance visitor screening may implement an airport-style X-ray or swab system instead of manual bag searches and pat-downs for faster, more thorough and efficient inspection of personal belongings.

2. Equipment Placement

The location of screening equipment in your facility can be just as important as its role in your screening process. Consider carefully when and where best to place these tools.

X-ray and body scanning equipment are generally large, fixed installations and are most often located in the booking and intake areas. These are usually larger areas of the facility and can accommodate the equipment and personnel needed to operate and monitor these tools. If you are planning a renovation or a new facility, be sure to design entry points with adequate space to accommodate large body scanners and X-ray machines to future-proof the investment.

Placement at additional points of inmate movement adds another layer for a more effective facility security plan. A walk-through body scanner placed where inmates enter and leave the facility for medical appointments or court appearances provides another opportunity for detecting contraband.

Michael Burrows, urban security marketing manager for Smiths Detection, recommends placing a walk-through body scanner at the entrance/exit of kitchen facilities for an added layer of security.

“Because the kitchen is often staffed with inmate workers, a scanner at this entrance offers increased assurance that dangerous weapons are not leaving the kitchen and making their way into the general prison population, where they can compromise the safety and security of other inmates and staff,” he said.

To catch contraband in deliveries, Burrows suggests a large-scale X-ray machine for correctional facility loading docks. It’s very difficult for a CO to inspect incoming pallets of food and other supplies, which can be very large and are often wrapped in plastic.

“Often the only tool available to offer any visibility under or around large pallets is a small mirror on the end of an extension pole,” said Burrows. “With scanning capabilities, large-scale shipments can be thoroughly examined in a matter of minutes.”

3. Funding Resources

It’s no secret that correctional budgets are tight. If your facility needs to upgrade its screening tools and tactics but doesn’t have room in the budget, finding grant funding for securing the most up-to-date equipment can be the answer to solving gaps in your facility security strategy.

Justice Assistance Grants are a key resource for grant funding to law enforcement agencies. Equipment purchases in efforts to assure officer safety, collaborative prosecution of offenders and violence reduction are priorities for JAG funding.

Building your grant funding proposal around a target area or problem is one strategy to apply for federal level funding for new equipment. You can also take a collaborative approach to your grant proposal by identifying a research partner or partnering with another law enforcement or correctional agency.

More Efficient, Effective Screening

Officers can be quickly and easily trained to operate walk-through body scanners, handheld metal detectors and trace detection tools, creating an effective solution to boost correctional facility screening efforts. With the availability of these new technologies, there is no longer any reason to rely solely on labor-intensive pat-downs and strip searches or the use of out-of-date technologies that can compromise the security of your correctional facility.