Canada’s largest correctional facility has installed a body scanner, not unlike those at airports, to prevent visitors from smuggling weapons, drugs and other contraband inside. The scanner at the Edmonton Remand Centre is being tested over the next year in a pilot project by the Alberta government.
Provincial Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley announced the project at a news conference in Edmonton on Oct. 18. The prison is currently training its employees to use the scanner, which is expected to be fully operational by December, according to an announcement on the government’s website.
The scanner is designed to detect items hidden on one’s body, as well as foreign objects in body cavities. It will complement the current security measures at the facility, including search dogs, intelligence gathering and routine checks.
“The safety and security of staff, inmates and visitors at the Edmonton Remand Centre is paramount,” Ganley said at the conference. “Over the next year, we will evaluate how effective this technology is in preventing illicit drugs, dangerous substances and weapons from entering and jeopardizing the health and safety of those who enter this facility.”
Ken Johnston, the institution’s director of security, said that the Centre’s staff were “very pleased” to have the scanner technology.
“The scanner is a part of a toolbox of security measures that will improve our ability to maintain safety for all those who work and live at the centre,” said Johnston. “We are looking forward to making this a part of our daily operations.”
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has been lobbying for correctional facilities in the province to install body scanners for years, according to union president Guy Smith, who told COHSN that he was “thankful” for the new measure.
“It was nice to go to the Remand Centre and talk about some good news for a change,” Smith said about the conference. “There have been issues of contraband getting onto the site. So our members there, obviously, who have health and safety as their number-one issue for themselves and other inmates, wanted to see if there were measures that could be put in place.”
Smith added that body scanners had already seen success in Ontario institutions, as far as deterrence. “They’ve been fairly aggressive in rolling out these measures,” he said about Ontario facilities. “Once inmates know that this measure’s in place, they know they’re probably going to get caught because of the body scanner, and the amount of weapons and contraband coming onto the facilities has decreased significantly.”
He credited the Rachel Notley government for recognizing the importance of safety for correctional staff and taking the AUPE’s concerns seriously. “There are still some things we’re working on, but this is certainly a very significant step forward,” he said. “This government does actually look out for their health and safety, way more than the previous government did.”
Smith cited the 2013 wildcat strike by Alberta’s correctional workers, which had resulted from the Jim Prentice government’s neglect of their safety issues, while he called the Notley pilot project a “good first step.”
The scanner and its maintenance contract will cost the government around $580,000, according to the online announcement. “It needs additional training of staff to operate it, so there’s added cost there,” said Smith. “But you can’t put a cost on someone’s health and safety and possible lives being saved. And I think the government recognizes that.”
He expressed hope that the pilot project would be successful enough to spur the installation of body scanners in other Alberta institutions. “That would be our preference, for sure.”
The Edmonton Remand Centre opened in 2013 and currently houses more than 1,500 inmates.