Riverbend Maximum Security Prison is the first testing ground for a body scanner that will check visitors and staff for contraband.
Visitors to the prison in west Nashville may now feel like they are going through airport security.
It is part of an effort to reduce the amount of contraband smuggled inside, which is considered a felony.
“It is going to enhance our ability to catch it because we are always trying to find ways to promote safe prisons,” Associate Warden of Security Tony Mays told News 2. “That is my number one priority.”
Prisons across Tennessee are constantly finding banned items like drugs, tobacco, weapons and cell phones in the possession of inmates.
Cell phones especially concern officials with the Tennessee Department of Correction.
“They can intimidate witnesses and they can provide information on staff,” Riverbend Warden Wayne Carpenter said. “It is an avenue where they can communicate with their cohorts on the street and it is not monitored.”
The body scanner uses a low amount of radiation to create an image of the person showing items hidden under clothes or inside body cavities.
“This will allow us to see if someone is hiding a cell phone in a body cavity so we can prevent it from coming into the institution,” Sergeant Michael Keys said. “Our main focus is trying to deter contraband from coming in, not just for the public safety but for the inmate’s safety as well.”
Sgt. Keys is an institutional investigator and has been overseeing the testing of the body scanner.
“In the past, we couldn’t see body cavities and things like that,” he said. “Of course institutions, jails and prisons have an issue with contraband. “
The only people excluded from going through the scanner are people who have a pacemaker, juveniles younger than 16 and pregnant women.
The body scanner is just in use at Riverbend for now, but depending on how the system works, it could be rolled out to other Tennessee prisons.
So far, the scanner has not found any contraband.