California’s prison system says it is testing ion scanners and drug sniffing dogs to screen people who visit prisoners in 11 correctional facilities.
The plan is to amend regulations to require visitors “to submit to contraband and/or metal detection devices..and/or electronic drug detectors including, but not limited to, ion scanners,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports.
CDCR asserts these regulations will stop the flow of contraband, namely drugs and cell phones, into the prisons, according to a January 2015 opinion column by Gina L. Clayton.
She is executive director of the Essie Justice Group, an Oakland-based group of women with incarcerated loved ones. Its goals are to empower women and end mass incarceration.
These new procedures affect women disproportionately, Clayton said. Women and children make up the majority who visit prisons and these procedures place extra burdens on them, she added.
Visitors already endure long drives and may have their cars searched in the prison parking lot. Once inside, they are subjected to pat downs, metal detectors and having their clothes examined for dress code compliance.
This can leave the visitor confused, humiliated and broken, some family members have told the Essie Justice Group.
These new policies further discourage visitation, Clayton contends. The Essie Group urges the state to find more effective and a less humiliating approach to keeping prisons safe from contraband other than dogs and strip searches.
The CDCR 2016-2017 budget proposal states, “In the event of a positive ion scan, visitors … will be given the option of a millimeter wave full body scan to detect drugs or contraband concealed beneath clothing. If visitors refuse the … millimeter wave body scan, they will be allowed a non-contact visit.”
CDCR is requesting $7.9 million for additional equipment and staffing for its Enhanced Drug and Contraband Interdiction Program (EDCIP).
In 2014-15, the Legislature approved a two-year limited-term funding of $5.2 million per year for the department to implement its EDCIP program.
CDCR chose to place its EDCIP pilot program in 11 institutions. The pilot placement is to gather understanding of the effectiveness of the program through the department’s varying custody levels, including male, female, camps and reception center facilities.
The department’s canine program statewide currently has 49 canine teams located in the Northern, Central and Southern California regions, according to the CDCR budget proposal.
The department has extended the written public comment period to April regarding the proposed amendments and the canine searches.
Clayton said that visitation protects society as a whole; it helps inmates stay out of trouble and engage in rehabilitative programs. Those inmates who maintain loving and positive relationships with family are less likely to re-offend, studies show.