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Fight the flow of contraband by securing mail and deliveries

Modern detection and identification technologies help COs detect and isolate suspicious goods and packages


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The following is paid content sponsored by Smiths Detection.

By CorrectionsOne BrandFocus Staff

Mailrooms in correctional facilities require thorough screening, because even the smallest or seemingly most innocuous items can be very dangerous when placed in the wrong hands.

The HI-SCAN 5030si, a tabletop X-ray inspection system from Smiths Detection, can quickly screen letters and smaller packages to discover contraband that can be seized and confirmed by a manual search. (photo/Smiths Detection)
The HI-SCAN 5030si, a tabletop X-ray inspection system from Smiths Detection, can quickly screen letters and smaller packages to discover contraband that can be seized and confirmed by a manual search. (photo/Smiths Detection)

Weapons and cellphones pose serious safety challenges to correctional facilities. For example, the high-profile Clinton Correctional Facility escape in Dannemora, New York, in 2015 was facilitated by tools smuggled in hamburger meat.

Drugs are perhaps an even greater threat. In some prisons, the amount of narcotics behind bars has tripled in the last five years. Inmates can receive drugs smuggled in deliveries, greeting cards, or even something as outwardly innocent as a child’s drawing. Often, the envelopes for these items conceal drug patches or have been soaked in illicit substances.

Further, false positives or fake threats, such as an unidentified white powder or a suspicious object in a package, not only interrupt the flow of mail, they can also result in costly investigations, difficult lockdowns and diverted personnel.  These events disrupt other important daily procedures.

The Right Tools for the Job

Opening and searching every package by hand is not feasible or cost-effective. In addition, hidden weapons and unknown substances pose a significant safety threat to correctional workers as well as to inmates. How can correctional facilities efficiently discern a real threat from a false one and fight the flow of illicit contraband and drugs?

Various detection and identification technologies can help officers discover and isolate suspicious goods and packages. This capability helps keep threats out without impeding daily operations or interrupting the flow of mail and other deliveries. These tools enable corrections facilities to quickly and easily screen for drugs and other contraband hidden in packages, envelopes, laundry, trucks or even produce.

Particularly in larger facilities, a layered approach of X-ray, trace detection and chemical identification works best to keep contraband from getting behind bars. For example, X-ray technology can see into break-bulk items, envelopes and small packages, and it can even be used to screen vehicles.

X-ray screening

An X-ray system can be used by a mailroom operator to screen and clear mail parcels quickly and accurately, without requiring further scrutiny.  A system that yields high-resolution images can reduce false alarms and those instances in which an operator needs to open a letter, parcel or crate for further scrutiny.

For example, the HI-SCAN 100100V-2is by Smiths Detection provides both a horizontal and a vertical view for a thorough screening, reducing the need to examine items multiple times, open boxes or sift through food for manual inspection. The HI-SCAN 5030si, a much smaller X-ray inspection system, can quickly screen letters and smaller packages to discover contraband that can be seized and confirmed by a manual search.

In addition, larger vehicle scanners, whether fixed or mobile, can provide a complete view of what a truck or car is bringing into a facility, including interior and exterior contents.

Should a package or vehicle be deemed suspicious from X-ray screening, the contents can be confirmed using another method of detection or identification.

Trace Chemical Detection and Testing

Several technologies test specifically for chemical markers to help identify unknown substances. Ion mobility spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and Raman spectrometry are key technologies for the detection and identification of trace amounts of narcotics, toxic chemicals and explosives.

Smiths Detection offers a variety of detection tools using these technologies:

  • Target-ID, a hand-held narcotics detection and identification system, uses FTIR to provide identification results within seconds and is programmed with a library of up to 2,500 narcotics, precursors, cutting agents and common chemicals.
  • SABRE 5000 is a lightweight hand-held detector that uses ion mobility spectrometry and vapor detection to alert users to the presence of trace amounts of homemade explosives, toxic chemicals and narcotic compounds.
  • IONSCAN 600 is a desktop unit that uses ion mobility spectrometry to analyze disposable swabs for trace particles of certain substances, such as homemade explosives and many narcotic compounds.
  • MMTD is a rugged, portable hand-held explosives and narcotics detector that identifies explosives, toxic chemicals and narcotics, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, THC and more.
  • The hand-held ACE-ID uses Raman technology to provide non-contact analysis so that suspect solids and liquids do not have to be handled. Materials can be identified through translucent and semi-translucent containers such as plastic and glass.

Investing in mail threat detection and identification tools can dramatically improve a facility’s awareness of contraband to prevent it from getting inside, where incidents can turn costly, quickly, from both a safety and a financial perspective. In the correctional environment, even the smallest threat neutralized can save lives.

Numerous technological solutions are available to help facilities achieve better security at all points of entry. Through a layered approach to screening of mail and deliveries, a wider range of threats can be detected and identified to increase safety without interrupting operations. 

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