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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tries to fast track draconian prison visiting policies, proposing use of canines and controversial ION scanners

September 23, 2014

by Mohamed Shehk

Claiming the need for emergency passage of new visiting policies, the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) is proposing the use of canines and ION scanners that would subject visitors to prisons to humiliating and traumatizing strip searches. The move has brought swift condemnation from prisoner advocacy organizations and groups that work with prisoners, including the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

An annual report at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, Ireland, finds an unacceptably high rate of false positive signals given by these dogs when they sniff visitors for drugs. So will they terminate the drug-sniffing? No, they’ll retrain the dogs. – Photo: Sasko Lazarov, Photocall Ireland

An annual report at Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, Ireland, finds an unacceptably high rate of false positive signals given by these dogs when they sniff visitors for drugs. So will they terminate the drug-sniffing? No, they’ll retrain the dogs. – Photo: Sasko Lazarov, Photocall Ireland

According to the new proposal, canines would be trained to “alert” to the presence of drugs (even prescription ones), tobacco and cell phones. If the canine alerts or the scanner tests positive, “the visitor shall be required to submit to an unclothed body search as a condition of visiting.”

Both canines and ION scanners are notorious for troubling rates of false positives, giving rise to litigation challenging the legality of their use. In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was forced to abandon its use of ION scanners because of the number of false positives and the hundreds of complaints by family members who were wrongfully denied visits.

Refusal to submit to this humiliating treatment will result in denial of the contact visit for that day. If non-contact visiting areas are available (unlikely on the day of the visit), the person may have a non-contact visit instead.

Anyone refusing to submit to the searches, even if they have no contraband, will have visiting privileges suspended for a year after three refusals. You can find drug rehabs near you with www.rehabnear.me. Any visitor found with drugs or cell phone is subject to possible arrest and criminal prosecution and will have visiting privileges suspended for one year the first time and permanently the second time.

However, prison employees, contractors and volunteers, although also subjected to the dogs and scanners, will only have to endure a pat down search if there is a positive sign. Imprisoned people under the new regulations will also be subject to these canine searches.

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” said Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

Anticipating widespread reaction from family and friends of prison visitors, the CDCR has only given five calendar days for public comment about this policy, in contrast to the typical 30 days. Defining these as emergency regulations and allowing only five days for public response is disrespectful in the extreme.

“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support,” said Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. These proposed regulations stigmatize and criminalize family members and friends of people in prison and subject them to humiliating, overly intrusive treatment.

The thought of being exposed to sniffing dogs, scanners and possible strip searches will be a deterrent to some visitors and may further weaken prisoners’ ties to the community. PHSS demands that it be deleted from proposed regulations entirely and has been asking supporters to send a message of opposition to CDCR by visiting http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/51040/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14857. The comment period closed at 5 p.m. today.

These proposed regulations stigmatize and criminalize family members and friends of people in prison and subject them to humiliating, overly intrusive treatment.

See the proposed new regulations as written by CDCR here: http://www.oal.ca.gov/res/docs/pdf/emergencies/new%20emergencies/2014-0918-01EON.pdf.

Mohamed Shehk can be reached at mohamed@criticalresistance.org.

 

6 thoughts on “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tries to fast track draconian prison visiting policies, proposing use of canines and controversial ION scanners

  1. Catalina Corleone

    If most people could see or experience the results of some of the contraband items that were successfully smuggled in, they wouldn’t think that increased security measures were “overly intrusive”. It’s prison, not summer camp.

    Reply
  2. Sophia Murillo

    If you could see how many family members have been victimized during my visits you would be disgusted. You have obviously never been stripped searched while visiting a loved one and I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve seen a 17 year old girl visiting her brother with her mom and she was singled out, pulled a side strip searched and treated like a criminal and had abusive remarks made to her during the process. I’ll never forget that poor girls face, all to be told oh we made a mistake, no apology. I’ve been treated with such disrespect by countless prison guards by visiting my brother. You have no idea how many times I’ve seen loved ones turned away because the cop holding your right to enter just felt like being a complete jerk that day.

    I’m pretty sure we as family member are all well aware it’s not summer camp, more then you would ever know. Ignorance and insensitivity is ugly!

    Reply
    1. Catalina

      Well, without elaborating, yes … I do have an idea. More than just that, actually. Sorry your experience was not a positive one, very little is under such circumstances. Kudos to you for visiting your loved ones. I am sure it means a lot to them.

      Reply
      1. Catalina

        I can’t speak for all institutions, but the ones I have seen have signs that explain if people do not want to agree to the possibility of a strip search, they can opt out of the visit. The searches are part of the effort to protect inmates (sometimes bad drugs — what if somebody took smuggled-in drugs and died), sometimes non-metal shivs and other weapons. It is a sad fact, but many, many people DO try to smuggle in items, and it’s also sad that those who do not have to be exposed to this level of scrutiny.

        Reply
  3. 222ecm222

    Smart dogs! We had some dogs like these when I was little. Great animals. They were always there for me. I had to go to Cornerstone.rehab at one point and I was pleased to see that they had the same type of dogs there for the patient to play with. Awesome!

    Reply

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