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NY1 Exclusive: City Correction Department To Battle Rikers Island Violence With Body Scanners

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TWC News: NY1 Exclusive: City Correction Department To Battle Rikers Island Violence With Body Scanners
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As inmates on Rikers Island appear to be turning more violent towards one another, the City Correction Department said it's battling the problem with new body scanners. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

The latest in high-tech body scanners are not for passengers boarding an airplane. But for inmates locked up on Rikers Island and in other city correctional facilities-- Prisoners who may try to sneak a blade or other weapons past correction officers.

"This actually identifies where the contraband is and what the contraband is," said supervising warden Robert Cripps. "We can tell from this machine if it is actually a weapon, this size of the weapon, the outline of the weapon."

Since the beginning of the year, the city has installed six of these SecurPASS machines in its jails, scanners that can see exactly what's inside a prisoner's body.

On Rikers, the latest weapon of choice is the blade from a medical scalpel wrapped in electrical tape and hidden in an inmate's rectum.

"(We've had) a few incidents where scalpel blades have been used in either slashings or stabbings," Cripps said. "This was primarily was used to detect that type of weapon."

Since January, officers have found 50 scalpel blades. It's a dangerous problem because the number of slashings or stabbings of inmates has almost doubled over the last two years, with 55 cases in the last 12 months.

On a daily basis, there are around 12,000 inmates housed on Rikers Island, so it's impossible to put all of them through a scanner. Inmates who are considered high risk, usually gang members, are scanned.

Often, the inmates are getting the weapons from family and friends.

"We have arrested 170 visitors so far this year attempting to bring in contraband," Cripps said.

It's not only inmates who are getting hurt. Norman Seabrook, the president of the correction officers union, said officers are taking it on the chin and elsewhere. Officers said assaults against them are on the rise.

"Some have had there fingers bitten off," Seabrook said. "Some of them, every other day, continue to be doused with urine and feces in their mouth as they are walking by. Some of them have had their noses broken, their eye sockets broken. So these things continue to happen because of the amount of staff we have."

The union said it has 2,500 fewer officers than its staffing in the 1990s.

"We have violent inmates walking around these facilities at any given time," Cripps said. "Just as violence occurs in the streets of New York and sometimes police officers get injured, correction officers get injured as well."

109 inmates have been arrested this year alone for assaulting officers. The Correction Department said it has installed 2,000 video cameras and put in place special patrols to keep officers and inmates as safe as possible.

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