Prisons considering body scanners for inmates

Prisoners could soon be subject to body scanners like the ones used by airport security to make sure they are not hiding weapons that guards could miss while frisking them.

The Bureau of Prisons announced it is considering a new rule, which will be published in Friday's edition of the Federal Register, that would make it easier for guards to use body-imaging search devices on inmates. 

This comes as body scanners have grown increasingly controversial in airports, because some travelers say they are uncomfortable that security officers can see the shapes of their body parts with these machines. But security officials say they are better at detecting weapons than traditional metal detectors.

“Inspection of an inmate’s person using electronic devices does not require the inmate to remove clothing,” the agency wrote. “The inspection may also include a search of the inmate's clothing and personal effects. Staff may conduct an electronic device search of an inmate on a routine or random basis to control contraband.”

Inmates now must consent to the use of medical x-ray devices, which could present certain legal challenges and confusion for guards who want to use body scanners to see whether inmates are hiding contraband in body cavities that are not easy to spot, the agency explained.

But the rule was never intended to prevent guards from searching inmates for contraband like weapons and cellphones, the Prisons Bureau argues, so it is clarifying the rule to allow body-imaging search devices.

The Prisons Bureau said the medical exemption does not apply to body-imaging scanners, but is reserved for medical procedures such as the use of an anoscope or vaginal speculum. 

The rule would classify body scanners as electronic search devices like metal detectors and explain that they are different than medical x-ray machines. 

This would allow guards to use body scanners to routinely search inmates without their consent, the agency said.