‘Ottawa’ High Tech Body Scanner for Ottawa Jail ‘Reveals Everything’
The new high-tech body scanner coming to the Ottawa jail is touted as the “ultimate substitute for strip searching” and will give correctional officers a glimpse at an inmate’s insides after it is installed within the next month.
The Soter RS is a full-body X-ray that the manufacturer promises will “reveal everything” in about 10 seconds. The 918-kilogram machine takes a high definition picture of inmates who stand on a moving platform that passes through a narrow X-ray beam. The images are so highly detailed that correctional officers will be able to see everything from what’s under an inmate’s clothes to what’s in their stomachs or rectums.
The province is buying 26 of the scanners to install at jails across Ontario, a $9.5 million investment they hope will reduce the amount of contraband entering provincial institutions while improving both staff and inmate safety.
The scan can expose metal, plastic, ceramic and organic materials, both inside and outside of the body. The operator of the machine can zoom in on the image up to 25 times. The radiation used is negligible, according to the manufacturer, and the machines can be used without any medical knowledge. Training on the machines takes about a day, according to the manufacturer.
The purchase price includes a decade’s worth of maintenance for the machines.
While the machine is touted as a replacement to strip searches, a spokeswoman for Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi said the machines won’t mark the end of traditional metal detectors or strip searches. It will be used in conjunction with the more traditional search methods currently in use in provincial jails, said Clare Graham.
The ministry couldn’t provide any firm numbers about how much contraband is seized at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, but drug abuse inside jails is considered a widespread problem.
A coroner’s inquest is planned into the deaths of five inmates at the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre from suspected drug overdoses. An inmate died in Ottawa’s jail in 2009 while trying to swallow a plastic Kinder egg full of drugs during a strip search, and others have been caught trying to smuggle drugs in.
“We know a lot comes in, the majority of it through the inmate population,” said Tammy Carson, the OPSEU representative and chair of the correctional officer’s provincial health and safety committee.
“If I look at five inmates I’m going to definitely find one of them that is bringing in some kind of contraband,” said Carson, a correctional officer at the Central North Correctional Facility in Penetanguishene.
Carson said full body scanners have long been high on correctional officers’ wish lists.
- Contraband at Ottawa’s jail usually comes in the back door
- Inmate who gave birth in segregation cell among speakers at forum on Ottawa jail
“We’ve found everything. Ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, morphine, Oxycontins, anything that is out there,” said Carson, adding current methods just don’t catch everything.
“We can’t do internal body cavity searches. We do a strip search and not very often do we see anything that is contained inside,” she said.
Carson, who has seen and used the full body scanner that was being tested at the Toronto South Detention Centre, said the new body scanners are unlike ones in use at the airport.
“They don’t do the deep penetrating X-ray like ours,” she said. “You can see everything. You can see organs.”
Lee Chapelle, a one-time OCDC inmate now turned prison consultant, agrees that such scanners will impact inmate smuggling, but he says there are still ways for drugs to get in.
“The flaw is and will continue to remain with staff. Staff are not checked,” he said. “The people who have unfettered day-in and day-out access to these institutions are the only ones who are not being checked.”
Carson said the scans are highly detailed and correctional officers are reluctant to allow their co-workers to examine them so intimately.
“I think we are sending the wrong message,” says Denis Collin, an Ottawa correctional officer and OPSEU local president.
Chapelle said that despite the body scanners, abuse of drugs won’t be eradicated inside. Inmates are resourceful when it comes to drugs, he said.
For example, some inmates will regurgitate their prescription methadone and then sell what they’ve thrown up.
“It’s subhuman, but it happens,” he said.