By the middle of next month, something big will have happened to the 34 institutions that make up the California prison system. If a recent protocol takes root, you could be subject to arrest, strip searches, being sniffed by drug dogs, and hand swabs the next time you visit a loved one or a family member in a California prison. Officials say that there is a growing problem with illicit drugs in the penal system and the assumption is that these drugs are making their way into prisons through visitors and staff members. So, state corrections representatives came up with a plan, they would use the same types of methods put in place in airports around the country. You can’t blame them; this kind of required search has meant a good many arrests for prisons that have put similar measures in place already. Already this year, officials report that 546 visitors have been arrested for trying to smuggle illegal drugs (mainly marijuana (CA Health and Safety Code 11357), but also cell phones)) into prison. The public will have 45 days to comment before these ‘emergency’ measures are fully approved.
While state officials believe it would be ideal to purchase 1 $30,000 ion scanner (which interprets hand swabs and would be programmed to detect marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine only) for every prison in the system, in the short term, they plan to install the machines in 2 test prisons to see how efficient they are and how well they work. Critics, including many advocacy groups, say that these expensive scanners are not reliable and often produce false positive results. Additionally, there have been reports from across the country that something as simple as touching the steering wheel or paper money that has drug residue on it can result in a positive scan when the person being swabbed is actually drug free. Unreliability of these machines is reported to be the reason for the Federal Bureau of Prisons having ceased their use of such scanners more than 6 years ago. That may be the most compelling argument, besides the potential for human rights violations, for abandoning the practice before it takes hold, costing the taxpayers tens of thousands of unnecessary dollars.