- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A debate is brewing in Concord over whether spending $2 million to install body scanners at prisons and jails is the best way to halt illegal drugs from entering.

The Republican-led Senate passed legislation to buy the equipment Thursday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk. But Democrats and the commissioner of the Department of Corrections say the measure hasn’t been properly vetted. Hassan’s office isn’t saying whether she plans to sign it.

The body scanner bill is part of a large-scale effort to crack down on the state’s heroin and opioid abuse crisis.

About $1 million would buy six scanners, three for the men’s prison in Concord, two for Berlin’s prison and one for the new, still unopened women’s prison. And $740,000 in grant money would help county jails buy their own scanners. Several county jail superintendents say they’re seeing an increase in people smuggling drugs in, often by hiding them inside their bodies.

“It’s absolutely money well spent,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said.

But Senate Democrats say the proposal, generated in the House, caught them by surprise and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted. Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn agrees. His office has been looking into using drug dogs in the prisons but hadn’t asked for body scanners before lawmakers initiated the effort.

“This is all brand new technology to us and there are a lot of issues that need to be worked out,” Wrenn said.

The bill requires anyone entering a state prison, including inmates, visitors and employees, to go through the scanners. Wrenn said there are privacy questions regarding the department’s ability to search a visitor. He said the scanners won’t differentiate between drugs and other items, such as feminine hygiene products.

“I want to make sure that this does not turn into a nightmare situation for me,” Wrenn said.

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