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Combatting contraband: How to prevent narcotics from breaching prison walls

This array of tools can help agencies cover all their bases

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Many inmates rely on their perceived ability to successfully hide substances on or inside their bodies.

Smiths Detection

Preventing inmate overdoses is an ongoing priority for correctional officers no matter the size and location of their facility. Unfortunately, once illicit substances have breached prison walls, trying to stop inmates from using such drugs is like a game of cat and mouse. Instead of focusing CO efforts on locating narcotics already within a jail cell, agencies can shift their sights to completely stopping the influx of drugs before they even reach inmates’ hands.

This probably sounds easier said than done, but by using several types of screening tools, the number of illicit substances that enter a facility can be dramatically reduced. Not only will this improve the safety of inmates, but COs will find themselves interacting with unknown substances – and thus putting their own safety at risk – far less often.


Inmates have become very creative when attempting to smuggle narcotics into a jail facility, but many still rely on their perceived ability to successfully hide substances on or inside their physical bodies. To combat this, correctional facilities can establish their first layer of contraband protection using the B-SCAN by Smiths Detection.

“You really cannot hide anything from a B-SCAN,” said Michael Frunzi, Ph.D., senior manager, business development and technical sales at Smiths Detection. “It uses X-rays to penetrate the body, so it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or the size of the object. If it’s visible, we can find it with the B-SCAN.”

X-ray technology has long been a staple in correctional facility screening, with exceptions made for pregnant individuals and those with specific health concerns. Frunzi explains the amount of X-ray radiation an individual is exposed to from the B-SCAN is equivalent to being on an aircraft in flight for approximately 20 minutes at cruising altitude.

While the B-SCAN helps COs locate illicit items that have been swallowed, inserted or hidden on someone’s body, it only addresses one way in which inmates attempt to bypass security measures.


As X-ray screening technology has become more sophisticated, inmates have turned to other ways of attempting to bring narcotics behind jail walls. One of the most popular methods is to liquefy narcotics and send soaked papers or envelopes through the postal system.

COs should be on the lookout for pieces of mail that appear to be out of the ordinary and can use trace detection tools like the IONSCAN 600 to confirm whether any suspicious items have been tampered with.

“We’ve seen the most success with the IONSCAN 600 detecting threats that have been deposited on or soaked into paper,” said Frunzi. “It picks up the narcotics that have been incorporated into or onto the paper and gives you an analysis in just a few seconds. If the threat is in the detection library, it will be able to tell you what that threat is. Other devices are very good at telling you that paper has been adulterated, but not necessarily telling you by what.”

With its red light/green light system, the IONSCAN 600 can alert COs to the presence of narcotics without requiring any user training. Beyond checking incoming mail, the device can be used to swab an individual’s hands, cell or belongings. A positive identification can then prompt a search for the substance responsible for the residue.


Despite these new and sophisticated smuggling methods, it’s not uncommon for COs to notice a powder or other unidentified substance on or spilling out from a piece of mail. In these instances when there’s a visible amount of material, trace detection isn’t the best option. Rather, using the Target-ID, an identification tool with a robust library, will help determine whether narcotics are present.

Lightweight and portable, the Target-ID can be used in conjunction with the IONSCAN 600 to confirm the presence of narcotics in nearly any scenario. Both devices feature intuitive software that makes it easy to test a substance and understand the results.

Many correctional facilities use the Target-ID as a way to stay ahead of emerging narcotics threats thanks to its ever-evolving database of substances.

“The Target-ID is very powerful because it is updateable and the data from it can be submitted to the ReachBackID service,” said Frunzi.

This service acts as a bridge between different versions of detection libraries, allowing correctional facilities to identify new substances while the team at Smiths Detection upgrades device libraries on the back end.

“Our best tool for discovering emerging narcotic threats is communication with our customers who are on the frontline,” Frunzi explained. “Even if their participation remains anonymous or they don’t want to share their data, simply understanding the threats they see clues us into what threats to add to the instruments next.

“We know new drugs of abuse like xylazine or nitazene are problematic. We know they’re appearing in large quantities, so those are the next materials we will add to our next product update. In the meantime, the ReachBackID service has some ability to identify those substances even before the automatic routines in our devices are updated.”


While each screening method can stand alone to help prevent narcotics from entering correctional facilities, the combination of multiple devices acts as an enhanced safeguard. Ultimately, it’s up to each agency to develop their specific plan to stop the influx of illicit substances.

“If your main problem is mail, the IONSCAN 600 is the right device for you,” said Frunzi. “If you’re finding a lot of baggies of powder or crystal, and the narcotic threat is rapidly evolving, then the Target-ID is the right device. It really depends on what your main pain points are and what you have the infrastructure to support.”

Visit Smiths Detection for more information.

Read next: Stop contraband in its tracks: This device can detect the narcotics you can’t even see

Courtney Levin is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol where she develops content for the public safety audience including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds a BA in Communications from Sonoma State University and has written professionally since 2016.