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Ion Scanner Abuse Cited By NYCLU

The New York Civil Liberties Union has called on the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to suspend the use of ion scanners to screen visitors at state correctional facilities.

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU says, “The scanners are supposed to help DOCS screen prison visitors for drugs and explosives. But they are highly unreliable. The NYCLU has documented numerous complaints from visitors to the state’s correctional facilities who have been turned after long journeys to visit relatives or friends because of erroneous ion scanner reports. To make matters worse, the DOCS offers no way to rebut the errors.”

NYCLU’s Associate Legal Director, Christopher Dunn, has requested a meeting with Commissioner Glenn S. Good to discuss “… a suspension of the program and the implementation of fundamental changes that would allow the program to service DOCS’s interests while respecting the privacy and due process right of visitors.”

The problem with using ion scanners as the sole basis for excluding a prison visitor is not new. In fact, a 2001 U.S. Department of Justice Report cautioned on the use of the technology. Specifically, the report noted that because the scanners cannot distinguish between two different substances composed of same size ions – even an innocuous substance can be identified as illegal contraband. These “false positives” can be triggered by medicines, perfumes and even chlorine baby wipes.

Unlike New York, the Florida Department of Correction uses ion scanners as a basis for further inquiry and not as the sole grounds for denying visitation. And in Massachusetts, the state corrections agency stopped using ion scanners to settle a lawsuit.

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