“Whole body” scanning to prevent jailhouse smuggling of contraband such as cell phones could violate the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
Gone is the era when hacksaws were smuggled into prisons via cakes and other baked goods produced by wives and grandmothers. These days, the contraband items of choice are smartphones and the tiny subscriber identification modules, known as SIM cards, that make them operable. So reports a newly released audit of federal lockups by the Justice Department’s office of the Inspector General.
“An inmate with a cell phone, particularly a smartphone, can carry out criminal activities undetected, including threatening and intimidating witnesses, victims, and public officials and coordinating contraband smuggling and escape attempts,” says the report. “Inmates, each using their own SIM card, regularly share cell phones.”
The consequences can be fatal. “In February 2013, a Correctional Officer at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, was shot and killed while driving home from the facility in what authorities believe was inmate-involved retaliation related to his investigations into cell phone smuggling.”
There is little public information regarding goings-on inside the Bureau of Prison’s Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego, but the heavily redacted audit reveals a host of system-wide problems, including “an inmate warehouse worker who attempted to introduce contraband concealed in cereal boxes into a high security institution.”
Prison policy provides for pat-down inspections of staffers, who may be especially tempted to smuggle smartphones and SIM cards for big-money bribes. “However, the policy did not prescribe any required frequency for conducting random pat searches, resulting in what we found to be infrequent staff pat searches of varying duration. It also allowed staff to possess and use within institutions items, such as tobacco, that are prohibited for inmates.”
Potential solutions have raised fresh questions. New “whole-body scanners,” says the audit, “can detect objects concealed in anterior and posterior body cavities.” But “incorrect implementation of the [redacted] when the officer and inmates are of different genders is particularly problematic because it can affect…compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.” In addition, some staffers, according to the document, were found to be “unaware of the prohibition on inmates viewing their images, which can compromise security operations.”