Scanners aid prison contraband detection

Department of Correction Sgt. Walter Kiser, right, demonstrates the Millimeter Wave as Bureau of Prison Deputy Bureau Chief Paul Shavack gets scanned at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna on Wednesday.The new screening technology helps prevent contraband from entering the prison. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — As the Delaware Department of Correction continues its drive to create a safer environment for those entering prison facilities and anyone held inside as well, correctional officers now have a new way to detect contraband.

An investment in Millimeter Wave technology whole-body image scanners will hopefully pay dividends in stopping attempts to bring illegal substances through the prison entrances. The system went live at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Tuesday and should be operational at all Level V facilities by next week, officials said.

Five scanners are located at prison gatehouse areas, DOC said, and four X-ray scanners are set for booking and receiving areas across four maximum security facilities.

DOC Deputy Commissioner Monroe Hudson touted the new scanners as another tool to assure a more safe and secure environment within correctional facilities, joining a “very robust” security camera system, K-9 detection program, cell phone detection technology, “stringent” mailroom search protocols and the recently opened Intelligence Operations Center.

“Whether it’s drug contraband, dangerous weapons or devices intended to defeat security systems or aid in an escape attempt, they all present significant safety and security concerns for our people and our facilities,” he said.

“This technology will greatly enhance our proactive efforts to keep them out and to hold those who may try to introduce illegal contraband into our prisons accountable for their actions.”

According to Bureau of Prison Chief Shane Troxler, there have been 123 incidents involving contraband within correctional facilities since February 2019, most involving illegal substances such as K-2, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana and cocaine.

The scanners can also serve to dissuade anyone considering bringing illegal substances into the prison, DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said Wednesday during an event at JTVCC introducing the new system.

“If it scares off people from bringing in contraband, which is a deterrent, if that number 123 goes down to 50 that’s a success,” she said.

“If it goes up to 200 that’s also a success because we’re finding more, but we’re hoping it’s a deterrent as well.”

A close-up of the Millimeter Wave screen at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

DOC Sgt. Walter Kiser, who oversaw implementation of the program, said officers can be trained to use the system in two-hour courses and receive educational support from manufacturer Nutech.

Correctional Officers Union of Delaware President Geoff Klopp lobbied state legislators and Gov. John Carney to secure funding that wasn’t originally in the DOC’s requested Fiscal Year 2019 budget. DOC said that while $1 million was allocated, only $992,000 was actually spent to purchase the scanners.

“When we broke down exactly what the machine did and how it would really be life changing as far as contraband coming into the prison, it was relatively easy to get the General Assembly and governor’s office on board,” Mr. Klopp said.

Also, Mr. Klopp said, “This is a great day for the Department of Correction and correctional officers. This will (hopefully make) the job a little easier but definitely more effective.

“It will be better for our visitors (and staff) and it will absolutely make the facility a safer place and it’s just wonderful to see the technological advancements that have come in the (DOC) in the last two years and we look forward to continuing that forward progress.”

The impact of positive technological strides was not lost on Commissioner DeMatteis either.

“The old metal detectors are 19th century technology,” she said. “We’re in the 21st century, it’s time our correctional facilities get into the 21st century.”

The proposal for the project “shows how the department has changed,” Commissioner DeMatteis said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis speaks during the introduction of the Millimeter Wave screening device at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna on Wednesday.

“It came from officers and we put a sergeant (in charge) of it. This didn’t come from the top down and I think this is a model of how we are running this department.”

According to the DOC, the scanners use non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation to “more effectively detect objects on or inside a person’s body.

“This technology is not only much more effective at detecting contraband, it is also safe, as MMw scanners do not expose personnel and visitors to any harmful radiation.”

Five scanner machines have been set for gatehouse areas, DOC said in a news release, and four modern x-ray scanners to booking and receiving areas across its four Level V prison facilities.

In a news release, the DOC said “Unlike earlier versions of MMw scanners that were first deployed in airports, DOC’s new, upgraded scanners protect privacy by creating a generic ‘cartoon like’ image that indicates where contraband is detected on an individual.

“Security staff who operate scanner machines do not see physical features of the person being scanned.”