Prison Scanners fiasco continues

Readers may remember the publication of the Dame Anne Owers report entitled ‘Review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Conditions, management and oversight of all prisons’ in October 2011.  Keep that date in mind.

Recommendation 8 of the report states: ‘Efforts should be continued to see whether there is an effective and less intrusive method than full body-searching of ensuring that prisoners leaving and entering prison are not bringing in contraband.’

Following the publication of the report, the NI Prison Service announced that two trials involving electronic scanners to replace full body searches would take place.  The first, which began in September 2012, utilised a millimetre wave scanner, much the same as those used in airports such as Belfast International.

In February 2013, however, the Prison Service ruled out the use of this technology in prisons as it failed to detect contraband such as knives and scissors in an internal trial – the results of which were not independently verified.

The second, more complex trial is set to use a backscatter x-ray scanner and due to the range of radiation this involves, is subject to European legislation, namely the Justification of Practices Involving the Use of Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004.

In a nutshell, the Prison Service has to submit a detailed technical application to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change who will decide whether the scanner can be used in this manner.

Here’s the kicker.  The application was received from NIPS on 2nd May 2013, and a determination was made on 9th December 2014.  It was determined that this was a new way of using the technology, and as such needs further examination.

Sounds fair enough? Well.  BtP can reveal today that the Prison Service is now waiting for a NEW application from the National Offender Management Service to use the technology across the UK to be assessed.  Let’s be clear, an NI specific report leads to an NI specific application, all in all taking nearly three years, now NIPS have decided to wait for another application that is similar to theirs before they go ahead with the second scanner trial promised in October 2011.

In a FOI response to BtP, NIPS have said:

NOMS (National Offender Management Service) are currently going through the justification process in regards to the use of ionising radiation. They are submitting a report to the Department of energy and climate change to ask for permission to use transmission x-ray scanners. There will be no further progress until this process is completed.

As NOMS application is for a similar purpose, it is sensible that both should be considered together.

Until this prolonged process is completed, prisoners, particularly in Maghaberry who had engaged in protests about full body searching, are sure to be somewhat angry at this latest debacle.


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