Body scanners installed at 3 Manitoba jails to keep out drugs, contraband

By | May 16, 2019

New body scanning equipment is being used at three Manitoba correctional facilities in an effort to keep out drugs and other contraband.

“[The scanners have been] up and running for just a matter of days and we’ve already found three individuals bringing in illicit drugs, so it’s working,” said Minister of Justice Cliff Cullen.

The scanners have been installed at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, Brandon Correctional Centre and The Pas Correctional at a cost of $750,000.

Inmates will be scanned upon entering the facilities, and rescanned after exposure to the public in order to detect hidden drugs or other contraband items.

“This is designed for drugs but certainly if they have any weapons on them, that would be observed as well,” Cullen said.

Inmates stand on a platform, as demonstrated by this corrections officer, that slides past an X-ray machine to create a skeletal image. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The device scans the body with a low dose of X-rays to create a skeletal image that can reveal any foreign objects.

“It’s so important to have technology available to provide safety and a better process — a better way of doing business —for the people that work here,” he said.

Previously, inmates suspected of carrying contraband were placed in cells without flushing toilets, called dry cells, for a few days to make sure anything they might have hidden inside their bodies is passed.

“We would also have to keep a staff member watching that person to ensure the drugs were not re-ingested,” said Greg Skelly, executive director of custody for Manitoba Corrections.

We were putting inmates through a process that was difficult for them and uncomfortable for our staff. We no longer have to.– Greg Skelly, Manitoba Corrections

Drugs were found in less than 10 per cent of dry cell cases, Skelly says. In 2017-18, almost 11,000 hours of staff time was spent on dry cells, at a cost of more than $450,000.

“We were putting inmates through a process that was difficult for them and uncomfortable for our staff,” Skelly said. “We no longer have to.”

Greg Skelly, executive director for Manitoba Corrections, says the previous method used to screen inmates suspected of carrying drugs was difficult for inmates and uncomfortable for staff. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The scan takes between five and 15 minutes to complete, but Skelly says its speed will increase as staff get more familiar with the equipment.

The scanners are equipped with various safeguards and officers are trained to use them without any risk to themselves, the province said.

Cullen says the technology won’t result in a loss of jobs, but rather a better use of corrections officers’ time.

“We’re expecting a reduction in overtime,” Cullen said.

Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says the body scanners, which have only been in use for a few days, have already detected three inmates carrying illicit drugs. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The province expects to save $740,000 in the first three years, and $440,000 a year each year after that.

The money to pay for the equipment comes from the $50-million Idea Fund, which was created last year to encourage front-line public servants to come up with innovative ways to save government money and improve services.

The province will be assessing how well the program works before installing them at other facilities.

About 20 scanners are currently being used in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. Saskatchewan has also recently purchased four scanners.

Facilities that use the technology report high volumes of contraband recovery, the province says, particularly in the period just after installation.