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Do Prison Drug-Detection Wands Work Too Well?

Prisoners tell The Fix that even drug-free loved ones are being denied visits after positive "magic wand" scans.

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Are prison scanning devices less than magic?
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By Seth Ferranti

09/13/12

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To deter visitors from smuggling drugs to prisoners during visits, Bureau of Prisons staff routinely employ a drug detection "wand." They randomly conduct scans which produce field results in less than two minutes, and are capable of detecting drugs like cocaine, cannabis, opiates and meth on a person—even in tiny quantities. "My girl smoked a joint in her car before she came in to visit me, and then they wanded her and the sensor went off," one prisoner tells The Fix. "So they turned her around and wouldn't let her visit." What correctional officers call "a sophisticated lab on a stick", roughly the size the size of a pen, quickly picks up invisible residues after a single wand-like motion. But it's not an exact science. "My 70-year-old grandmother, who has never touched a drug in her life, got swiped one time with the drug sensor and was refused to visit because they said she tested positive for cocaine," another prisoner tells us. "That was some pure bullshit." And similar occurrences are reported in other prisons—creating new innocent victims of the War on Drugs, as prisoners and their families and loved ones unfairly miss out on longed-for visits. "When my girl comes now she wipes her hands down with a hand-wipe disinfectant to make sure there is no type of residue on her hands that the drug wand can detect," the first prisoner says. "Because it doesn't matter if she smoked marijuana or not; the drug wand is some garbage and I'm not trying to miss my visit over some defective-ass equipment."

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