Canada: prison drug scans for visitors potentially unreliable and keeping families apart, researcher says

Ion scanners cause stress for families of prisoners, research shows.

Canadian prisons are testing visitors for illicit drugs using a potentially unreliable technology, according to a researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Stacey Hannem, who teaches in the school’s criminology department, has been studying the impact of ion mobility spectrometry devices on inmates and their families. Her research was recently published in a book on technology and criminal justice.

The devices, which are also known as ion scanners, are used to detect microscopic particles of drugs.

“*When you go into visit in a Canadian prison you will be swabbed,” Hannem explains. “They will swab generally a piece of jewellery or your belt or something that you would’ve touched.*”

Hannem says if the scanner detects any trace of drugs it will ring, triggering a secondary review by prison staff to decide if a visitor will be allowed into the prison.

According to Correctional Service Canada (CSC), the goal is to prevent contraband and illicit substances from getting into correctional institutions.

But Hannem says the scanners are prone to false positives, which causes stress for many families who worry they could lose their visiting privileges.

So what they will do is things like, you know, scrub their hands and shower from head to foot before they’re getting ready to go to the prison,” she says.

They have a specific set of clothes that have been laundered and kept in a plastic bag. And they will wash all their jewellery and wash their driver’s license.

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