New law allows Rikers to use body scanners to detect contraband

The bill, signed Tuesday, allows jail personnel to operate devices that detect nonmetallic weapons hidden within body cavities


By Kenneth Lovett
New York Daily News

ALBANY, NY — Rikers Island will again be able to use body scanners on inmates to detect nonmetallic weapons on inmates like ceramic knives.

The “ionizing radiation” body scanners had been used at the jail until 2014, when the state Corrections Commission ordered the practice to stop because state health law required that such devices be operated by licensed radiation technicians.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Cuomo on Tuesday, allows jail personnel to operate devices that detect nonmetallic weapons hidden within body cavities.

The New York City Department of Corrections had previously obtained five body scanners that had been used at airports around the country until they were replaced after privacy concerns were raised.

Rikers has used the scanners to detect contraband hidden in inmates' bodies or in their clothing, including ceramic blades and weapons made out of titanium and plastic that cannot easily be found in pat frisks and are undetectable by metal detectors, bill sponsors Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens) and Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County) said in a memo.

They said the scanners are needed to help thwart a rash of stabbings at Rikers.

“During the period when the body scanners were in operation, the use of the scanners appeared to act as a deterrent, discouraging inmates from carrying weapons of any kind,” the bill memo said.

But opponents of the bill expressed fear that the scanners can cause cancer.

Hannon and Weprin acknowledge in their memo that there is a “small risk” of cancer, but warned inmate and staff safety at Rikers trumps “a remote and unlikely threat of cancer caused by such body scanners.”

“In light of the endemic violence at Rikers Island and the increasing use of ceramic blades as weapons among the inmate population, it is important to safeguard staff and inmates from the immediate and widespread threat of slashing,” they wrote.

Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen called the new law “a major victory in our fight for restoring safety and security in New York City’s jails and, for that matter, enhancing safety in all correction agencies in the state of New York.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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