Developing Testing Methodology for the Use of Noninvasive Whole Body Scanners

By Ely, John A.; Craig, Todd | Corrections Today, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Developing Testing Methodology for the Use of Noninvasive Whole Body Scanners


Ely, John A., Craig, Todd, Corrections Today


Authors' Note: Opinions expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or the U.S. Department of Justice.

Contraband interdiction in correctional environments is a dynamic and ever-advancing security discipline. Correctional agencies employ the use of a number of contraband detection technologies including walk-through metal detectors, hand-held metal detectors, ion mobility spectrometry, alcohol sensors and other forms of technology to identify the presence, use of, or movement of illegal contraband throughout an institution. However, the profession as a whole has not deployed technology designed to detect plastic or wood contraband other than medical X-ray. With the continued progress in security technology, correctional practitioners continue to move toward noninvasive inmate search techniques.

For more than the past decade, three major types of noninvasive whole body scanner technologies have emerged in law enforcement and security professions that would be applicable for use in a correctional environment: millimeter wave, low-dose backscatter X-ray technologies, and transmission X-ray technology. For all three types of technology, software allows for faces and private areas to be blurred and provides options for retrieving, storing, printing and sending an image once it is cleared from the screen. Millimeter wave technology (i.e., terahertz nonionizing submillimeter microwave radiation) can see through clothing and provides a fuzzy image of a fully exposed body, enabling a correctional professional to detect potentially dangerous items without touching the inmate. However, this is a relatively new technology that only recently has developed to allow detection of smaller quantities of drugs, nonmetallic sharpened weapons (i.e., wood, glass) or small contraband items such as handcuff keys. This technology will continue to evolve to detect smaller contraband but must be tested prior to implementation to ensure it provides the level of detection desired for corrections applications.

Low-dose backscatter X-ray technology personal security screening systems (e.g., commonly called bodyscan) can also detect contraband on or under an inmate's clothing. Several state correctional agencies and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have tested to determine if routine use of the low-dose backscatter X-ray technology is effective for detecting nonmetallic contraband in prisons. On the federal level, Sandia National Labs conducted tests as far back as 1992, and its test results concluded the technology was safe and effective for detecting nonmetallic contraband. The technology has been deemed safe, if used in the correct manner, by a number of federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Health Physics Society and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI has published a standard concerning the use of the security scanner. In federal law enforcement, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been using these scanners for some time and the Transportation Security Administration plans to deploy 80 of the bodyscan machines in major airports during 2009.

There is a new and very promising security technology that has been commercialized from the health care profession into corrections: full body transmission X-ray technology. Although widely available throughout Europe and South Africa, where it was developed, it has just now become available in the continental U.S. The company marketing this technology claims it to be a complete security screening portal, and it is now undergoing testing and evaluation by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and several jails.

Proponents of this technology suggest that it can detect narcotics, metallic and nonmetallic weapons, plastic and liquid explosives, chemical and biological materials, and components of explosive devices. …

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