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Miss. debates limits on body scanners at prisons

 

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- For the past few months, Mississippi prison employees have had to walk through body scanners when they go to work to make sure they're not carrying drugs, weapons or other contraband items. 

 

If some lawmakers get their way, that will change. 

 

House Bill 926 proposes that the scanners be used only if there's reason to suspect an employee is carrying contraband. 

 

Republican Rep. Dennis DeBar of Leakesville has constituents who work at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and some believe the scanners invade their privacy. He said many of them are worried that a co-worker could see naked images of their bodies. 

 

"We have a lot of religious people -- Pentecostals and Baptists -- who object to that," DeBar said Monday at the Capitol. 

 

Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Booth said the scanners have been altered to disable the feature that shows a bare-body image. 

 

The department has 17 scanners that previously were owned by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and were used in airports until privacy advocates raised concerns about naked body images. TSA donated the scanners to state government, and MDOC acquired them by paying a fee to the state surplus property division, she said 

 

As soon as MDOC received the scanners in 2013, the department disabled the feature that shows a naked image, Booth said. 

 

In a Nov. 27 letter to DeBar, an attorney for the department addressed the concern the lawmaker raised. 

 

"The image projected by the scanners is an X-ray image which shows the body in varying degrees of shadow," wrote David K. Scott, an assistant attorney general who works for MDOC. "The image does not show the genitals of the person being scanned." 

 

DeBar's bill passed the House Corrections Committee on Monday and moves on to the full House for more debate.

 

 

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