body scanner

Belmarsh Prison full-body scanner trial reveals inmates’ weapons and drugs

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An X-ray body scanner currently being piloted at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London has resulted in the discovery of various contraband that would have otherwise gone undetected, the prisons inspectors have said.

The device, which uses low level X-rays, has already picked up weapons, mobile phones and drugs on prisoners during the trial.

“Technology was being used to support efforts to manage violence and drug use at the prison: for example, through the body scanner being piloted in reception,” Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said.

“Early results were encouraging and I was told that staff welcomed the initiative, as did many prisoners who wanted to see the disruptive and dangerous trade in contraband disrupted.”

HMP Belmarsh is one of only three high-security local prisons in England and Wales and holds an “extremely complex mix of men”, including young adults and low-risk men, over 100 with an indeterminate sentence and those in custody for the most serious offences.

The high-security unit (HSU), “in effect, a prison within a prison”, holds some of the highest-risk prisoners in the country. There are also a large number of foreign national prisoners and some with a high media or public profile.

Data gathered during the inspection visit in January and February showed that levels of violence had increased at Belmarsh since it was last assessed in 2015.

However, in some important respects, the increase was not as significant as in many other local prisons, Clarke said.

A shortage of frontline staff is also being addressed but had resulted in a “severely depleted” daily regime and regular redeployment of specialist personnel to ensure that even a basic period of daily unlocking time could be given, the report found.

The overall level of security at the jail had helped and the use of illegal drugs was “less of a problem than we might have expected”, he added.

The scanners, which cost approximately £100,000 to £120,000, have been trialled at Belmarsh and HMP Wandsworth under pilots launched in October last year, as ministers and prison governors work to reduce the inflow of contraband across the estate in England and Wales.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, praised Belmarsh’s efforts, saying: “We will use learning from this to strengthen our drugs strategy across other prisons.”

Draft legislation put forward by a justice minister in September last year proposed eliminating mobile phone signals from prisons.   

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