Connecticut’s Department of Correction will explore the implementation of full body scanners in state prisons as an alternative to strip searches under legislation approved Tuesday in a bipartisan vote of the House.
Lawmakers sent the proposal to the governor on a 125 – 18 vote. The Senate approved it unanimously earlier this month.
The bill requires the Department of Correction to issue a request for proposals to purchase full body scanners — similar to the machines used in airports — to be installed in state prisons. It also requires the agency to report back to lawmakers next session on its progress as well as recommendations on issues like costs, health risks, and implementation.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the proposal was a response to emotional testimony his committee heard during a public hearing, where formerly incarcerated people said the searches were humiliating and dehumanizing.
“While certainly we would like to see strip searches be put to an absolute minimum, this bill moves, I believe, in that direction,” he said.
Stafstrom said the legislature would need to approve additional bonding in order to purchase the machines. A study commissioned by the state legislature in Washington found that a body scanner cost roughly $135,000 to purchase and around $25,000 to install in a prison.
On Tuesday, the bill received support from every House Democrat and many Republicans including Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, a ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.
Fishbein said the legislation represented an improvement over an earlier version of the bill designed to curtail the use of strip searches by requiring correctional staff to first document probable cause before initiating a search.
“Banning strip searches at that time, which is where we were, would’ve been a grave error,” he said. “Our correctional officers need to be able to protect themselves as well as other inmates.”
Others, like Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, opposed the legislation on procuring body scanners. Vail, a former correction officer, said that lawmakers were overstepping their bounds.
“I stand in strong objection to this legislation. I think it creates an unsafe work environment,” Vail said.
Some proponents of the bill have argued it did not go far enough. Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said she was disappointed the legislation did not move more quickly to address the concerns of formerly incarcerated people.
“There was stories and there continue to be stories of lived experience of people that are incarcerated that are being subjected to these body strip searches that I deem unnecessary,” Porter said. “There are times when it is needed, but I also believe that there’s an overuse and abuse of strip searches.”