Maryland using body scanner to find contraband in prisons

Alvin Eley administers a scan using the BOSS, or Body Orifice Security Scanner, chair at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup.
Alvin Eley administers a scan using the BOSS, or Body Orifice Security Scanner, chair at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup. (Kevin Clark/The Washington Post)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009

The latest security gizmo in Maryland prisons got its genesis years ago after a random comment made during a trade show.

"You know," a corrections officer told executives at Ranger Security Detectors of El Paso, "our biggest problem we're having now is people hiding things up their rear end."

Ranger was making a scanner dubbed the BOSS by 1996 and has been refining it ever since. Prisoners sit in the device, which is shaped like a chair.

"BOSS, of course, stands for Body Orifice Security Scanner," Ranger chief executive John Turner said by phone Wednesday from El Paso, where his company has produced more than 5,000 BOSSes for prisons from California to the United Kingdom.

Maryland corrections officials began testing the chair two years ago. They bought about two dozen of the $7,500 devices recently and now have 27 operating at all their facilities.

The scanner chair addresses a huge challenge for prisons. Inmates routinely spirit handcuff keys up nostrils, tape-wrapped razor blades under tongues, cellphones inside their anal cavities and more.

After being asked to take a seat, inmates get four areas of their bodies scanned. Feet and lower legs are checked, allowing the BOSS to pick up on keys wedged between toes or shanks tucked into pants legs.

The machine scans the midsection. Stomachs are also scanned to detect whether an inmate has swallowed contraband. To scan noses, mouths and ear cavities, inmates are asked to walk around the back of the BOSS and place their chin on a head unit. The device can target a technique in which inmates use a razor to slice a slit on the inside of their cheeks, which creates a tiny pouch in which to store contraband.

The BOSS picks up only metal. But its ability to find cellphones is critical, because they can be deadly in a prison. Inmates can use them to manage drug deals or order hits on other inmates or civilians outside prisons. Maryland correctional officers also use dogs trained to sniff out cellphones in prisons.

Searching inmate cavities without the device is difficult.

Corrections officers can pat inmates down, ask them to strip and look over their bodies. In Maryland, if an officer has evidence that there's been an insertion, he can ask medical personnel for a search, said Mark Martin, acting assistant security director for the Maryland Division of Correction.

A BOSS hit can provide good reason to take that next step.

Such was the case this summer at a central intake facility in Baltimore.

After the BOSS indicated trouble, an inmate was placed in restraints and asked to wait in a room while corrections officers went for medical assistance.

As the prisoner waited in the room, he excreted a small cellphone and stomped on it to try to erase data, Martin said.

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