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New law allows body scanning machines at Rikers to stem slashings

ALBANY — A new law will allow inmates at Rikers Island jail to be body-scanned for weapons by devices that are no longer used at airports and include “a small risk of cancer from exposure,” according to the bill.

The measure was enacted because of a spike in attacks on inmates and staff at Rikers Island. Increasingly, the slashings are from small nonmetal blades such as those made of plastic that can be hidden in the body or clothing and can’t be felt in traditional frisks, according the measure signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Tuesday.

“It will result in a safer jail and protects guards who are certainly doing a perilous job,” said Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), a co-sponsor of the measure..

The ionizing radiation body scanners are no longer used at airports because of privacy concerns.They were used at prisons and jails until 2014.

In stopping their use in jails, the State Commission on Correction cited state law permitting such radiation devices to be used only for medical purposes by licensed radiation technicians.

Hannon said the cancer risk of the scanners is small, about the same as flying in a jet.

But the bill, co-sponsored by Assemb. David Weprin (D-Hollis Hills), contains a warning:

“Because any radiation exposure is potentially dangerous, this bill includes oversight of correctional usage … to make sure that individual adult inmate exposure is minimal, that adolescents are only exposed to radiation under exceptional circumstances and that pregnant women are excluded from scanning.”

 However, Weprin said when the bill passed earlier this year: “In light of the endemic violence at Rikers Island and the increasing use of ceramic blades as weapons among the inmate population, it is important to safeguard staff and inmates from the immediate and widespread threat of slashing,”

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