California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Tries To Fast Track Draconian Prison Visiting Policies, Proposing Use of Canines and Controversial ION scanners
Claiming the need for emergency passage of new visiting policies, the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) is proposing the use of canines and ION scanners that would subject visitors to prisons to humiliating and traumatizing strip searches if they tested positive but wanted to be able to have a contact visit with their loved one. Canines are trained to “alert” to the presence of drugs (even prescription ones) tobacco and cell phones. If the canine alerts or the scanner tests positive, “the visitor shall be required to submit to an unclothed body search as a condition of visiting.” Both canines and ION scanners are notorious for troubling rates of false positives, giving rise to litigation challenging the legality of their use. In 2008 Federal Bureau of Prisons was forced to abandon its use of ION scanners because of the number of false positives and the hundreds of complaints by family members who were wrongfully denied visits.
Refusal to submit to this humiliating treatment will result in denial of the contact visit for that day. If non-contact visiting areas are available (unlikely on the day of) the person may have a non-contact visit instead. Anyone refusing to submit to the searches even if they have no contraband, will have visiting privileges suspended for a year after 3 refusals. Any visitor found with drugs or cell phone is subject to possible arrest and criminal prosecution, and will have visiting privileges suspended for one year the first time, and permanently the second time.
However, prison employees, contractors and volunteers, although also subjected to the dogs and scanners, will only have to endure a pat down search of there is a positive sign. Incarcerated people under the new regulations will also be subject to these canine searches.
Anticipating widespread reaction from family and friends of prison visitors, the CDCR has only given five calendar days for public comment about this policy, in contrast to the typical 30 days. Defining these as emergency regulations and allowing only five days for public response is disrespectful in the extreme.
“As a family member, it is a serious violation of my human rights to be forced to be humiliated in order to see my brother and give him family support” said Marie Levin of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. These proposed regulations stigmatize and criminalize family members and friends of people in prison and subjects them to humiliating, overly intrusive treatment. The thought of being exposed to sniffing dogs, scanners and possible strip searches will be a deterrent to some visitors and may further weaken prisoners’ ties to the community. PHSS demands that it be deleted from proposed regulations entirely.
See the 16 page PDF of the proposed new regulations as written by CDCR.
Press release from PHSS