November 4, 2009

Your tax dollars at work: Prison officials unveil high-tech strip search

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

If a Maryland prison inmate has a handcuff key up his nose, a razor blade in his mouth or a cell phone hidden where the sun don’t shine, then the BOSS is going to get him, state corrections officials hope.

That’s why they’re spending $178,000 on 24 Body Orifice Security Scanners (BOSS) as part of a $1.1 million purchase of enhanced security devices to cut down on prison violence. The purchase includes 1,000 protective vests for correctional officers at $431,000; 12 SecureView Scanners that locates contraband in clothing at $108,000; and 18 X-ray scanners at $436,000.

“Less contraband and better security make for safer prisons,” said Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard during a news conference held to demonstrate the new devices at Jessup Correctional Institution. “Contraband and gang activity are what fuel crime and breed violence in our prisons.”

Maynard said state intelligence activity has helped quell gang activity, while increased monitoring has reduced assaults on staff. Division of Correction numbers on the governor’s StateStat site show there has been a substantial reduction in serious physical assaults by inmates on other inmates, which are down by a third. Serious weapon assaults on inmates are down by more than half, from 127 to 60.

But less serious physical assaults have increased.

There are 22,681 inmates in Maryland prisons, and they commit about 500 assaults on staff each year, and about 1,000 assaults on each other. Officials hope the new equipment helps reduce violence.

Prison security staff demonstrated how the BOSS can detect small objects, such as a single razor blade in the mouth of an inmate. During a search, inmates lean over the machine, which has electronic metal detectors. The staff also uses aggressive pat-downs and strip searches on inmates as they enter and leave a prison. (Click here for WBAL TV video and some from WJZ)

“It enhances our physical searches and our strip searches,” said Major Mark Martin of the security unit. “Ideally, the chair work best after a strip search.”

“We look at the BOSS chair as a highly effective tool,” Martin said.

Maryland officials, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, are seeking changes in federal law to block cell-phone reception as an increased security measure in prison areas.

In the meantime, officials are using cell-phone sniffing dogs to hunt down the phones.

Sgt. David Brodsky showed how a Belgian malinois dog named Alva could find a hidden phone. He’s not sure how the dog smells the phone.

“It [is] the sum total of the parts,” Brosky said. He compared the composite smell to that of the cheese, sauce and dough that come together to make the unique smell of pizza. “She finds it every time.”

In the past year, the prison staff has confiscated 124 percent more cell phones, Maynard said.