New technology a ‘game changer’ against illegal contraband in prisons

Date published: 01 March 2023

New high-tech X-Ray Body Scanners will be phased into Northern Ireland’s prisons as part of the fight against the trafficking of illegal contraband, including drugs.

Governor Dave Savage pictured with Director General Ronnie Armour

The scanners, which are already being used in other regions of the UK, have been described as a ‘game changer’ by the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Ronnie Armour.

Speaking today at Maghaberry Prison, Mr Armour said: “Some people in our prisons are determined to traffic contraband into our establishments, however we are equally determined to stop them.  Our fight against illegal trafficking has taken a huge step forward with the introduction of X-Ray Body Scanners into Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank.

“This technology should be seen as a deterrent to those who wish to use their bodies to bring in drugs and other illegal items into our prisons.  This really has the potential to be a game changer in our efforts to thwart their efforts; it will assist in the detection and prosecution of offenders; and as a result will make our prisons safer for our staff, partner agencies and the people in our care. 

“The introduction of this technology is a key recommendation from the Criminal Justice Inspector and demonstrates our determination to makes our prisons as safe as we can to facilitate our focus on rehabilitation as we challenge and support those in our care to change their behaviours.”

The new scanner will ‘go live’ in Maghaberry Prison today with other machines planned for Hydebank and Magilligan later in the month.

The Governor of Maghaberry Prison, David Savage said: “This technology was initially piloted in prisons in England and has recently been introduced in Scotland. Last year over one in ten scans in England and Wales highlighted the presence of contraband.  Experience elsewhere indicates that this technology will greatly assist prison officers in controlling the flow of drugs in our prisons. My message to anyone thinking of attempting to traffic contraband is simple – don’t do it, we will find it.”

Notes to editors: 

1.  Photo caption: New high-tech X-Ray Body Scanners will be phased into Northern Ireland’s prisons as part of the fight against the trafficking of illegal contraband, including drugs.  Pictured from left at Maghaberry Prison are The Governor of Maghaberry Prison, David Savage and Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour.

2.  What is it called and how much does it cost? The Prison service has purchased four ‘Linev ConPass TR’ – known as X-ray Body Scanners.  Two for Maghaberry and one each for Hydebank Wood and Magilligan Prison. Each scanner costs £75k including VAT, delivery and installation.

3.  How does it work?  It utilises ionising radiation in the same way as a hospital x-ray. The dose is extremely low and is over 100 times lower than a hospital x-ray used to detect broken bones and is over 1,000 times lower than a CT scan.  The scanners will show internally concealed prohibited and unauthorised articles i.e. mobile phones, drugs, weapons.  UKHSA recommend that NIPS limit annual exposure to 300 microsieverts, which equates to 50 scans per year.  Only prisoners will be scanned – this is voluntary.  Non-compliance may result in reverting to other search methods, the application of disciplinary action and where appropriate restriction of association in the interest of the safety of the individual, staff and the prison population.  There is no authority to use this on visitors or staff.

4.  How effective have they been in detecting contraband?  Technical testing and operation of x-ray body scanners by HMPPS has revealed that this technology is an effective means of identifying if a prisoner is concealing prohibited and unauthorised items internally. For example in 2022 HMPPS undertook 209,000 scans of which 31,000 were positive.

5.  For media enquiries contact the Department of Justice Press Office via Email

6.  Follow us on Twitter @Justice_NI

7.  The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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