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Burnside jail’s new body scanners have already intercepted contraband


Correctional officials showed off the new X-ray body scanners in place at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility and said they have already intercepted contraband using the devices.

Reporters were given a demonstration of one of the scanners in operation at the Burnside jail on Wednesday.

The upright scanner was located in a room off an intake area. A person being admitted to the jail or an object such as a mattress, which is commonly used to hide contraband, is placed on a sliding platform that moves between two triangular columns that perform the scan. A person would stand on it, holding handles on either side.

Data is transmitted to a control apparatus at the security desk just outside the room in the intake area. A high-resolution screen allows officials performing the scan to see any objects inside the mattress or a person's body.

The demonstration used a mattress that had a knife concealed inside. The weapon was clearly visible on the operations screen at the work station. The touchscreen technology can zoom in on any part of the image for a closer look.

The scanners have been in operation since September, said John Scoville, Chief Superintendent of Correctional Services at the province's Justice department.

 John Scoville, chief superintendent of Nova Scotia's adult correctional facilities, and security risk officer Paul Menard give a demonstration of a new body scanner at the Central Nova Correctional Facility on Wednesday. - Ryan Taplin
John Scoville, chief superintendent of Nova Scotia's adult correctional facilities, and security risk officer Paul Menard give a demonstration of a new body scanner at the Central Nova Correctional Facility on Wednesday. - Ryan Taplin

He could not say how many contraband items have been discovered through the use of the scanners but did say there have been narcotics as well as a wide variety of prohibited things such as cigarette lighters and other potential weapons. The contraband is turned over to police when recovered.

Scoville said the technology is making an impact on illicit drugs getting into the jail.

“We heard through the inmates talking that there's less access to substances in the facility since the body scanners came in,” Scoville said at the jail on Wednesday. “Because, again, most people are not going to want to lose the product, so bringing it in with a high risk to actually lose the product and be charged criminally with something is the deterrent that seems to work.”

Even knowing the scanners are in operation, though, some will still try to smuggle something in because of the grip addictions can have, Scoville said, reinforcing the need for the technology.

“Anyone being admitted into the facility, or re-admitted, would be body scanned as the policy,” he said.

There are five scanners at the province's jails, two at Burnside and one each at the other adult facilities in Cape Breton, Pictou County and Yarmouth. Each cost $198,000, including the service contract.

Scoville said some items are easily identified in the scans and the resolution is high enough that in one scan he could count the pills.

“You may be able to see the level of detail that you would know kind of what it is, or you know there's something that's normally not there,” he said. “We would then … either give them the option of giving it to us or, if not, they would go into what we call a dry cell, that's somewhere without running water so that they are not able to dispose of anything that they brought in.

“Most times, now, they hand it over, because they have to go through a clean body scan to go into a unit.”

Data files from clean scans are kept for 30 days and then replaced as new files are recorded, he said.

Jail officials said the X-ray exposure risk at the highest setting per scan is less than that of eating a banana, which naturally contains very low-level radioactive isotopes of potassium. The jail exposure limit standards are 1,000 scans per year for one person.

Ryan Taplin
Ryan Taplin

They also took the opportunity to tout the Correctional Services' Limitless program, a partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College that helps inmates take courses while they are inside with the goal of eventually attending an NSCC campus.

Lorri Bower, with Corrections' educational services, said 53 inmates have already completed at least two modules of the program, starting last March, with 10 going on to apply to NSCC programs in September and four continuing through in core programs in January.

“For a lot of our folks, they really don't realize that attendance at post-secondary is a viable option to them and it's a program like this that shows it truly is,” Bower said. “And that's what we're hearing from them. They have hope that tomorrow can be a better place to be.”

Terrah Keener, NSCC manager of the school of access, explained that the customized course is comprised of four modules, two completed inside the jail and then leading to a core program at a campus. Limitless helps out with tuition and bursary for tools, protective gear, and books for the first term. Participants going on can then enter the Student Works on-campus student employment program, with money earned going toward tuition or living expenses.

Officials also announced that Tim Carroll, formerly a supervisor at the Burnside jail, is taking on the new role of Correctional Services Inspector for “policy compliance and quality assurance.” He will work closely with superintendents of the province's jails as well as the ombudsman's office and Human Rights Commission.

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