Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Magilligan Prison's new scanner could spell the end for full-body searches

A new hi-tech full-body scanner has been installed in Magilligan Prison ahead of a pilot scheme at the jail.

The millimetre wave scanner will begin its three-month trial from next week — with a second unit being introduced at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre next month.

The introduction of the device — which does not use X-rays —comes after a review of the Prison Service last year, led by Dame Anne Owers, which recommended the service find an “effective and less intrusive method than full body-searching”.

Dissident republican prisoners have protested against the use of full-body searches at Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim.

Some of the protests have turned violent, with prisoners wrecking cells and landings.

According to the Prison Service, the pilot scheme will test whether “advances in technology” can lessen the need for full-body searches — which is “consistent with the recommendation of Dame Anne Owers in her report”.

It added that the new technology will be used alongside “existing search procedures” and is aimed at detecting contraband concealed by an individual.

A similar scanner was also installed at Belfast International Airport earlier this month — scanning holidaymakers passing through security.

During oral questions in the Assembly yesterday, Justice Minister David Ford said that following staff training the new scheme will go live on September 26.

“Prison Service officials have leased two millimetre wave scanners from two different suppliers, the first of which was delivered and installed at Magilligan yesterday,” he added.

“A second millimetre wave scanner ... is due to be delivered to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre next month.”

The minister added that work was also continuing to pilot X-ray scanners within Northern Ireland’s prisons, but that this had not yet been approved.

“The process of preparing a justification application as required under the legislation is under way,” he added.

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