New contraband search a safer experience for staff, inmates

The John Howard Society is an organization whose goal is to understand and respond to problems of crime and the criminal justice system. A spokesperson from Saskatchewan said the body scanners are safer than previous methods used at the Regina jail. Photo by Dawson Thompson.

After a few months to reflect on the use of an x-ray machine and search program for inmates at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre, the John Howard Society believes this new method may be best for inmates.

“To the extent that it replaces more humiliating strip searches or cavity searches, it may represent a better option,” said Pierre Hawkins, public legal counsel for the John Howard Society.

“That being said, scanners are still an invasive search tool and there are legitimate reasons why a person would not want the state to x-ray their body.”

The Regina Provincial Correctional Centre in October introduced a new body scanning security system, the Soter RS, which according to the Ministry of Corrections and Policing, cost $175,000. The cost included the installation, maintenance and training for the staff.

The scanner was originally installed at the facility in March, but it took seven months for staff to be fully trained in the use of the x-ray machine.

The Soter RS allows corrections staff to screen inmates entering the facility for narcotics that may be hidden on or inside their body. Staff members are not scanned when entering the facility.

This new method being introduced to Saskatchewan correctional facilities allows corrections and policing to implement a much safer amnesty program.

The amnesty program allows inmates to dispose of any contraband they may have on their person before entering the facility and going through the body scanner. Inmates are given the option to use the amnesty box by correctional staff.

“(Inmates) go in there to drop off the item and there will be no questions asked; we just do not want it in our building,” said Julien Hulet, director of the Regina Correctional Centre during a press conference in November.

According to the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, an organization that advocates for changes in the criminal justice process, there have been some happy inmates with the changes to the search program.

“We have heard inmate support for amnesty programs,” said Hawkins. “These programs keep drugs out of the correctional centre while acknowledging that people sometimes make mistakes.”

Inmates can only be searched in accordance with The Correctional Services Act and Regulations. According to Hawkins, “The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly ruled that although inmates have a reduced expectation of privacy, they still retain privacy rights in prison.”

The correctional centre saw some success within the first six weeks of using the new system, finding six hits of contraband on inmates through the use of either the body scanner or the amnesty box. These hits prevented contraband such as marijuana, tobacco, and purple rock, a type of heroin, from entering the facility.

“It is important that the technology is used with restraint and that corrections officers are well trained in its lawful use,” said Hawkins.

Hulet is focused on inmate rehabilitation in his correctional centre. The RPCC director said about 75 percent of the people who come into the facilities across the province have an issue which needs to be addressed through abstinence or rehabilitation.

Hulet is confident that using the body scanner to cut off the drug supply entering the prisons gives them a tool to address other security issues such as gangs, who use the drug trade inside the facility to make money and gain power.

Correctional centres in Prince Albert and Saskatoon are scheduled to receive their own Soter RS body scanners this spring, according to The Corrections Ministry.

 

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