(WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Corrections recently backtracked on its tampon ban for female visitors but 8News has now uncovered DOC is now using full-body scanners to detect contraband smuggled into state prisons and it’s causing controversy.
The Adani Conpass DV full-body scanners can show everything. Visitors and employees have reached out to 8News calling the scanners taxpayers paid for, an invasion of their privacy and a health risk.
The high-tech body scanners provide detailed images of the human body exposing everything from one’s ribs and spine to illegal items like hidden weapons, cell phones, even small quantities of drugs.
8News has learned it’s not just prisoners and visitors who will pass through the x-ray machine.
Staff at Augusta Correctional Center recently got an email telling them all employees are now required to go through the scanners.
“You can see every crack and crevice and detail of your body,” says Denny Barger.
She makes weekly visits to Lunenburg Correctional Center where her fiancée is doing time. She calls the full body scanners intrusive.
“We’re not the criminals,” says Barger.
While the manufacturer’s website says it can uncover hidden items in body cavities, genitals can be covered and pixelated on the x-ray that doesn’t ease her or correction officers concerns.
One officer writes to 8News “I feel that my privacy is being invaded.”
Barger asks, “What about those images, where are they being housed? Who is to say that they just can’t be leaked out to the public?”
The scanners are not at Lunenburg Correctional Center just yet but DOC tells 8News they have purchased ten scanners which are already in use at prisons like Nottoway, Greensville and Augusta.
The total cost to the taxpayer is $1.7 million.
In a statement, DOC stated, “The scanners were purchased as part of the department’s ongoing efforts to prevent contraband from entering DOC facilities.”
DOC has noted a rising threat of contraband including cell phones and narcotics. Some of the illegal drugs have led to overdoses and deaths.
Just last month, DOC reported a female visitor tried to smuggle in 230 Suboxone strips in her private parts.
Still, Barger who often brings her young daughter to the prison visits worries about her and other visitor’s safety.
“It’s a health concern,” she argues. The scanners emit radiation.
“We have to look at the fact that we have children going though these scanners, their little bodies absorbing that much radiation because they want to see their dad, their uncle, their brother,” Barger says.
Another concerned corrections officer tells 8News they fear it is a conveyor belt to cancer writing to 8News they worry about passing through the machine “multiple times a day exposing them to radiation, raising the chance of getting cancer.”
8News did some digging and has found other prisons and jails in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona use scanners but most of the time it’s only for inmates.
New York’s General Assembly just approved scanners for use at Rikers Island but even in the bill lawmakers admit, “There is a small risk of cancer from exposure to ionizing radiation.”
Meanwhile, Barger says those visits are critical to an inmates rehabilitation.
“We’re their support system. They live for it,” she says.
She fears the radiation concerns and embarrassment with walking through the revealing scanners could deter families from visiting their incarcerated loved ones.
“We’re there for them, we’re making sure we answer the phone and encourage them to take their classes and do what’s right so them when they come home to us they are law-abiding citizens,” says Barger.
The Department Of Corrections shared a statement with 8News:
“In accordance with American National Standards Institute/Health Physics Society (ANSI/HPS) standards, there is a 250µSv yearly dosage limit for each individual. The computer system is designed to keep track of an individual’s dosage, and will automatically lock out the ability to scan once that limit has been reached. Every individual who passes through the scanners is tracked by the system.”
Still, corrections officers tell 8News they have questions about the training for these machines, they’ve yet to see a written policy for it.
Visitors say the fact that the system is tracking them, makes them uncomfortable.
Both think the money could have been better spent on staff and salaries. In a series of reports, 8News has uncovered Virginia prisons are severely short-staffed.