NEW REGULATIONS USE INDISCRIMINATE AND HIGHLY INVASIVE SEARCHES IN PRISONS

Kim Rohrbach

From Prison Focus Issue 44
Fall 2014

In late September, the CDC announced draconian new
regulations promulgated under the guise of an emergency.
These regulations purport to authorize the use of
dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search
all persons entering institutional grounds for contraband, as
well as the CDC’s wards. The public was given short notice
of the new regulations—we were only given about five days
to submit public comments to the Department—but word
quickly got out, and a large number of comments opposing
the regulations were submitted.

Although the “emergency” regulations nominally apply to
all persons, they require that only visitors and those incarcerated
endure strip-down searches in the event of “positive canine
alert” (employees and contractors receive nothing more
than a pat-down.) Moreover, penalties attach to anybody
who refuses a strip-down search and/or does so repeatedly.

To what extent these regulations have been implemented,
and the time-line for implementation, are unclear. Meanwhile,
on October 17, and on October 31, respectively, the
CDC issued Notices of Change to Regulations regarding
both electronic drug detection equipment and canine searches.
The Department contemporaneously publicized, “Recognizing
the ongoing problem with drug use and trafficking
within the institutions, CDCR must focus on undertaking a
comprehensive approach to prevent the introduction of drugs
and contraband into the institutions.” The Department further
noted that there were 4000 documented incidents recorded in
2013 related to drugs in California prisons.

4000 incidents is not such a high number, when put into
perspective. On December 25, 2013, the CDCr’s total incustody
population, according to its reported statistics, was
134,243. Thus, based on the latter figure, for each one hundred
people in custody, about 2.98 reported drug-related incidents
were documented in 2013. (One wonders how these
statistics compare with statistics out on the streets.) This is
by no means intended to minimize the problems and risks
associated with the presence of illicit drugs within California’s
prisons. However, the situation hardly justifi es a
policy allowing highly invasive and indiscriminate searches
of visitors and those in custody. Staff and contractors, who
typically go into work without so much as passing through a
metal detector (or so this writer has observed), have the most
unfettered access to those in custody, and the greatest ability
to introduce contraband unnoticed.