Ms Christine Wyatt1
1Office Of The Inspector Of Custodial Services, Perth, Australia
Contraband in prisons is a legitimate concern for the Western Australian Department of Justice. Items like illicit drugs, weapons, and mobile phones present considerable dangers to prisoners, staff, and others. Various methods are used to prevent contraband entering prisons and detecting contraband (particularly drugs) when it is already inside. One strategy is the authority to search people, places, and property. Searches can involve hand held metal detectors, and drug detection dogs, but people can also be patted down and strip searched. The latter is the most invasive.
This paper examines the over use of strip searches in Western Australian prisons. It also summarises the harm caused by this invasive practice while highlighting the ineffectiveness of its core purpose: to locate contraband. The paper also looks at the firmly held view of many that strip searching deters people from hiding contraband, and how, despite overwhelming evidence, it is a challenge to dislodge popular belief.
There is some discussion about alternative practices to strip searching such as modern scanning technology. Some of which are already proving to be as effective, and in some cases, more effective at detecting contraband. More importantly, it is far less invasive and time consuming than conducting a strip search.
The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services oversees the way people in custody are managed. We conduct regular inspections and reviews of prisons, work camps, court custody centres and the detention facility holding young people. We are independent. We report directly to the Western Australian Parliament and our reports are also available to the public.