- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

“Orange is the New Black” this isn’t.

In an attempt to stop the large amounts of contraband filtering their way into U.S. penitentiaries, the federal Bureau of Prisons decided to pick up some X-ray machines to improve security.

But the machines have done little to cut down on smuggling and burned taxpayers for $4 million in the process, according to the Department of Justice’s inspector general. Some X-ray units have sat unused, while others have been installed without any proper training given to prison guards.

Even when installation and operation go perfectly, the machines still might not be useful.

“The purchased X-ray machines are limited in their capacity to effectively scan many of the items which [the Bureau of Prisons] facilities receive,” investigators said, warning they are allowing inmates to slip potentially deadly items past security.

For buying X-ray machines without an effective follow-through to actually make them helpful, the Bureau of Prisons wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction given out by The Washington Times to mark examples of government waste, fraud or abuse with taxpayer monies.

Bureau officials said in response to the inspector general’s report that they would make sure all regional administrators in the prison system have training on the X-ray machines and conduct periodic reviews of whether the scanning and detection process is being effective.

The agency also said they’re launching a mandatory training and simulation course test on the machines for anyone who will be using them.

The 65 X-ray machines — which cost a total of $4 million — aren’t exactly like ones travelers see going through the security check at the airport. The ones purchased by the bureau are much larger, designed to scan whole pallets of supplies and shipments coming into the prison.

They can take pallets packed with so much stuff, in fact, that the machine can’t scan it all. The inspector general talked with prison officials and found that 64 percent are ‘dissatisfied’ with the X-ray’s ability to properly scan collections of items that are densely packed together.

Investigators found that even if a pallet wasn’t fully scanned, some prisons were accepting the contents into the building instead of opening them up and taking a closer look at what the X-ray couldn’t detect. Other prisons that did do inspections by hand found the X-rays to be extra work, since they were going to have to open up the containers anyway.

The items and places the machines couldn’t detect have been redacted in the inspector general’s report so as not to publicize the X-ray’s vulnerabilities. But security concerns didn’t stop some prisons from setting up the machines where convicts could easily view and study the monitors.

“While an untrained viewer may not be capable of immediately recognizing an object or assessing its threat level, an inmate with an ongoing ability to view X-ray machine monitors may be able to identify specific ways to place contraband so that the items that may present serious institutional threats are less likely to be identified,” the inspector general found.

The most obvious threat is inmates using the vulnerabilities to smuggle in weapons or other items that could pose a danger to corrections officers, staff and other inmates. But investigators are also worried about convicts slipping another item through the X-ray machines: cellphones.

The Government Accountability Office had previously found several instances of smuggling being a huge problem, including examples where “an inmate in a New Jersey state prison used a contraband cellphone to order the murder of his girlfriend, who had previously testified against him during a trial, and that an inmate in a Maryland detention center ordered the murder of a state witness via a cellular phone.”

In response to the inspector general’s investigation, the bureau sent a memo to its system of penitentiaries laying out clear rules for the machines and stating that they are “intended to enhance, not replace, existing security policies.”

For large pallets and packages, the bureau memo directed prisons to break everything down into smaller chunks that could be fully scanned by the machines.

Of course that’s all assuming the machines made it to their destinations in the first place. Out of the 65 units purchased, the inspector general found that 10 of them sat unused for six months to a year before they were finally turned on.

And as of January, two prisons have still not installed their machines — more than two years after they were purchased.



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