By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 10:30 PM
Last weekend, an overzealous officer at the Prince George's County jail told female visitors - including defense attorneys who wanted to visit their clients - that they would have to remove their bras before they could pass the metal detector at the main entrance.
It seems the bras have metal wires in them that could set the device off.
Some women refused and didn't see their clients.
Brian C. Denton, the county's chief public defender, said four female defense attorneys contacted him, worried that a new policy was in place at the jail.
But on Monday, Denton called Mary Lou McDonough, director of the county Department of Corrections, and got a clarification.
McDonough said she told officers at the jail that it is not the department's policy to require women to remove their bras before going through the metal detector.
"It was a training issue," she said, with one officer, who happened to have been on duty.
McDonough said the jail began using a new metal detector about two weeks ago that is more sophisticated than previous models. Unlike scanners used at airports, the metal detector at the jail does not produce images of someone's body underneath clothes, she said.
But the new model does produce arrows on a graph indicating where metal might be located. The machine is sensitive enough to tell the difference between the underwire of a bra and contraband - such as a cellphone or a weapon, McDonough said.
"We've got new equipment that makes the jail more secure," she said.
Jails in the Washington area and prison systems in Maryland and Virginia have different policies when it comes to underwire bras and metal detectors.
Visitors to the Montgomery County jail are not asked to remove their bras, said Arthur M. Wallenstein, director of the county's corrections department. If visitors set off the metal detector, a jail officer would wave a handheld metal detector over their bodies, Wallenstein said.
If the handheld detector buzzed, the question of what was setting it off would have to be determined before the visitor was allowed into the jail, he said. A visitor with a body piercing could resolve the issue by showing an officer the piercing, Wallenstein said.
In the Maryland state prison system, a visitor who sets off the metal detector will not be allowed in, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
A woman who frequently visits Maryland prisons as part of her job working for defendants said she keeps a sports bra in the trunk of her car when visiting those institutions. Most sports bras don't have underwires.
Inmates in Maryland prisons often advise female visitors that they should not wear underwire bras there.
Female visitors to Virginia state prisons are not required to remove their bras before going through metal detectors, said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
If a visitor sets off the metal detector at the entrance, he or she would be scanned with a handheld metal detector, Traylor said. If the handheld device goes off, the visitor could be asked to accompany a prison officer of the same sex to a secluded area to pull up his or her shirt to determine what was triggering it, Traylor said.