Justice Pulls the Plug on Body-Cavity Scanner for Puerto Rico Slammer

By Aliya Sternstein

June 3, 2013

The Justice Department stopped the planned purchase of an X-ray machine that examines inmates’ body cavities one day after announcing the acquisition, according to federal documents.

A RadPro SecurPass Whole Body Security Scanning System was to be used at the Federal Bureau of Prisons Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. "The scanner will be installed in the receiving and discharge area and used to screen inmates for contraband," stated a May 28 work order. A day later, Justice posted a cancellation notice in a government database without explanation. 

On Monday afternoon, bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said, “We canceled the procurement because we needed to revise it but we expect to issue it again.”

The reversal came the same week lawmakers praised the Transportation Security Administration for removing from airports security scanners that display graphic body images, ahead of a June 1 deadline. 

Prisons in various parts of the country since 2011 have turned up heroin, kidney stones and other unexpected materials with SecurPass systems, ProPublica reported in early 2012. Detention centers typically scan convicts as they move to and from work detail.

The health ramifications of repeated body imaging are debatable. TSA in December 2012 agreed to an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences on cancer risks from the radiation.  

A standard setting on the SecurPass emits a radiation dose 10 times higher than that of an airport body scanner, according to ProPublica. To produce a more detailed image, the operator can switch to a higher exposure. 

Justice has purchased at least one body cavity screening system prior to last week's cancelled order. Government spending databases indicate that the department in September 2011 inked a $198,000 contract with SecurPass-maker Virtual Imaging for a machine.

More recently, in June 2012, St. Lucie County in Florida mounted one of the scanners at the local jail, according to NBC 6 South Florida.  

(Image via solarseven/Shutterstock.com)

By Aliya Sternstein

June 3, 2013