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Contraband Detection Technology in Correctional Facilities An Overview of Technologies for Screening People, Vehicles, and Correctional Settings

NCJ Number
M. O. Dix; M. J. Osbourne; M. Ascolese ; M. Kucharski Schwartz; C. Lindquist; M. Camello; T . Craig
Date Published
19 pages

This first in a series of reports on contraband in corrections presents an overview of the types of contraband and associated technologies and products used to detect contraband on people, in vehicles, and in the environment.


The report defines common technological terms, reviews the challenges of contraband detection, compares contraband detection technologies, and discusses the future of contraband detection. As used in this report, “contraband” refers to items that inmates are prohibited from having in their possession, including weapons, explosive or combustibles, drugs, money, electronics, and tattoo instruments, along with food, alcohol, or tobacco products. A person promotes prison contraband if she/he unlawfully brings it into a detention facility or unlawfully produces, obtains, or possesses any contraband. Contraband-detection technologies are typically classified as either scanning for contraband that is on a person, in a vehicle, or is present in an environment. Portable handheld detectors are low cost and effective but require longer to scan. Walk-through devices provide a fast scan but are more expensive. Less expensive options are usually limited in the types of contraband they can detect. More expensive options can detect more types of contraband but may produce higher radiation exposure. Benefits and limitations are noted for handheld detectors and drive-through detectors of contraband in vehicles, as well as the detection of contraband hidden in walls, furniture, mail, and packages. 8 figures