New search technologies to be used in prisons

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has outlined details of two pilot projects on new search technologies to be used within prisons that allow full-body scans without the need to remove clothing.

May 17, 2012
By Paul Jacques
Picture: Police Scotland

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has outlined details of two pilot projects on new search technologies to be used within prisons that allow full-body scans without the need to remove clothing.

The first, involving millimetre wave body scanners, will be operational in both Magilligan Prison and Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre during the summer.

The other pilot, involving Transmission X-Ray technology, can only be commenced when the necessary authorisations have been obtained under the current regulations. There is currently no timeline for its introduction but it will also be piloted at Magilligan.

“I have consistently said that full-body searching is demeaning to both prisoners and staff and believe that it is worth considering what value the latest technology can bring to searching regimes within prisons,” said Mr Ford.

“Since the publication of the Prison Review Team’s Report, the Prison Service conducted a review of the technology around full body imaging scanners for their potential use in prisons.

“On the basis of that review, I gave a commitment that the use of full body imaging scanners would be piloted and I have set out for the Justice Committee how this will be taken forward and the main steps involved.”

Subject to securing, installing and training staff on the use of the millimetre wave body scanners, the pilot in Magilligan and Hydebank Wood is anticipated that it will last between three and six months.

A pilot of Transmission X-ray technology in Northern Ireland is awaiting the outcome of an application by Holme House Prison in England to run a trial.

If this application is successful it will also allow the piloting of the technology in Northern Ireland. However, the minister has instructed Prison Service officials to commence work on a separate application so that progress can be made as quickly as possible.

Millimetre wave technology bounces harmless electromagnetic waves off the body and any potential threat items that are detected are indicated on a generic outline of a person.

Mr Ford said this “marks substantial progress” against one of the recommendations by Dame Anne Owers in her report on whether there was an effective and less intrusive method other than full-body searching for prisoners leaving and entering prison.

“However, progress cannot be made at the expense of prison security and the pilots will test if the technology offers the same, or even enhances, the safeguards provided through full-body searching,” added Mr Ford.

“I have consistently said that full-body searching is demeaning to both prisoners and staff and believe that it is worth considering what value the latest technology can bring to searching regimes within prisons.

“The technology that will be piloted has the potential to be used for all prisoners, not for any one specific prisoner group.”

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