Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2016
Source: Kingston Whig-Standard (CN ON)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2016 Sun Media
Author: Ian MacAlpine


The leader of an advocacy group supporting family members of inmates 
in federal institutions says something needs to be done to correct 
the high numbers of false positives for drug residue picked up on ion 
mobility spectrometry (IMS) devices, or ion scanners.

These false positives have resulted in visits by family members being 
rejected or changed to a higher security setting.

"Once your son, daughter or husband is involved in the justice 
system, you're just thrown for a loop," Anne Cattral of Ottawa of 
Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS), a group of approximately 35 
mothers of federal and provincial inmates offering support for new 
family members of new inmates, said in a phone interview. "Nobody 
knows where to turn or how to get advice, information or anything, so 
that's our No. 1 mandate."

Recently, Donna Young of Kitchener complained to the Whig-Standard 
after her family visit with her son was denied at Collins Bay 
Institution because of a false positive for traces of crystal 
methamphetamine and opiates on her luggage. She claims there were no 
drugs on the luggage.

The trip cost her more than $600 and she and her grandson never got 
to see her son, the boy's father.

It is not uncommon for visitors to get a false positive and have 
their visit denied, Cattral said. She said it is an ongoing problem 
with the majority of the members of her group.

Her 45-year-old son, Robert, is serving a four-year sentence at 
Warkworth Institution. In the three years she's been visiting him, 
she said the scanner has given her three false positives. She has 
heard the same story from other members of her group across Canada.

"This is not something that's particular to one institution in the 
federal system. It happens all across the country," Cattral said. 
"Every time you test positive, it goes into the inmate's file and 
that becomes a history."

Cattral said any false positives are used against the visitor in 
further interviews with staff over reinstating their visiting 
privileges. The penalty might be allowing only a closed visit talking 
on the phone through glass or not granting visits for an extended 
period of time.

"I becomes increasingly more punitive with each time you hit [a false 
positive] on the ion scanner. If you test positive more than once, 
you're punished." Cattral said many of her group's members have sign 
a petition at that they hope to send to Prime Minister 
Justin Trudeau and Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to address 
"the high rate of 'false positive' ion scanner results among visitors 
to Canadian prisons."

"Basically, what we're asking for is at least they review it and try 
to provide some type of solution without putting so much stress on 
families," she said.

Cattral said Correctional Service Canada supports family visits of 
inmates to help them reintegrate into society, but the false 
positives from the scanners are undermining that effort.

She said family members go to great lengths not to test positive on 
the scanner. This includes washing coins prior to using them at the 
prison vending machines, purchasing gas for the trip the day before 
so there are no fumes on the visitors' clothes, showering before 
leaving home and then putting clothes on directly from the dryer and 
driving to the visit non-stop.

"You don't stop at any of the Enroutes along the way to go to the 
bathroom, buy a drink or anything because if you do, you run the risk 
of being contaminated anywhere," she said.

But some people still test positive after all of those precautions, she said.

"It's a crapshoot whether you're going to test positive or not. You 
can take all the precautions you want and then touch a door handle 
and maybe run the risk of testing positive."

She doesn't believe the testing is fair, with only visitors of 
inmates tested while staff, contractors and other personnel are not 
tested by the scanner or sniffed by the dogs.

"There's six people in the waiting room waiting to be tested and 40 
other people who walk through untested," Cattral said.

According to CSC's website, a study was done on the scanners and it 
said they're useful in detecting most drugs, but because they can 
detect very small amounts of drugs, sometimes false positives are displayed.

Kyle Lawlor, a communications and outreach officer with CSC wrote in 
an email to the WhigStandard this week that CSC regularly reviews the 
use of innovative security tools to enhance its capacity to limit 
security incidents and prevent security breaches.

"CSC also has strict policies concerning contraband and unauthorized 
activities; we have a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drugs in 
institutions. These policies are enforced through extensive search 
procedures applying to staff, visitors and inmates."

He added that preventing and reducing the number of contraband items 
and illicit substances in correctional institutions is a priority for CSC.

"It is important to note that almost 80 per cent of offenders who 
arrive at our federal institutions have some level of substance abuse 
problem, and many have multiple addictions," wrote Lawlor.

Stacey Hannem, an associate professor in the department of 
criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Kitchener, said the 
problems with the scanners are a consistent issue in her research. 
Hannem earned a PhD in 2008 researching the impact of crime and 
prisons on families of male prisoners and mental health issues for 
family members of incarcerated relatives. She has also worked with 
the Canadian Families and Corrections Network and has heard from 
members of that group as well about the scanners.

"I would say that, unfortunately, false positives are not uncommon 
and I think it poses a pretty significant barrier for families who 
are trying to maintain contact with their loved ones," she said in a 
telephone interview.

Hannem agrees a pending visit and trying to pass the scanner causes a 
lot of stress to the family member, saying people go through "rituals 
. to try and clean their hands and to clean everything they own to 
make sure there's no possible trace of anything or any stray bit that 
could have gotten there."

Hannem said the majority of people visiting prisons are not drug 
users but can still get contaminated by drugs in their everyday lives.

"All of us have traces of drugs on us, in handling cash or shaking 
hands with a stranger on the street, and you don't know what you 
might be transferring," she said.

Hannem said the ion scanner is not a perfect technology.

"They identify drugs by measuring how long it takes for the particles 
to travel through a magnetized tube," she said. Then the machine 
matches those particles to its known database.

"There are legitimate pharmaceuticals that will actually ring 
positive for illicit drugs because they share some of the same compound."

One example is antifungal drugs that will register on the scanner as 
an opiate, she said. Another issue is cross-contamination if the 
scanner isn't cleaned properly between checks.

"It's not clear that the policies are always being followed," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom