In an effort to increase and enhance security, the Tennessee Department of Correction announced the implementation of new technology.

According to a recent press release, every person entering a TDOC prison will be required to be screened by a full-body scanner.

TDOC is promising that the new technology enhances its current security procedures by “using advanced imaging technology that allows security staff to identify contraband being smuggled inside a person’s body.”

The rest is straightforward. Staff, visitors, volunteers, and all other personnel will continue to be required to abide by current security protocols that include walking through a metal detector and allowing all belongings, outerwear, and shoes to pass through an x-ray machine. A person may also be required to undergo a pat-down or wand search.

“Like all correctional agencies across the country, Tennessee is in a constant battle to keep contraband out of our facilities,” said Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton. “We are committed to meeting the evolving threat and our mission of operating safe and secure prisons.” 

Helton added that the scanners will give prison staff the ability to see what the naked eye cannot and “add an extra layer of protection to our current approach.”

 The body scanners should act as deterrents for individuals considering bringing contraband into a facility.

 When commenting on the need for such a measure, Helton emphasized that “contraband is not just drugs – it is anything not distinctly allowed in our facilities. That could include tobacco, cell phones, weapons, and other electronics. Items like these breed an unsafe environment for everyone inside and can interfere greatly with the rehabilitation of offenders.”

 One such place, at which the new safety measure hopes to make a difference is the North East Tennessee Correctional Complex, NECX.

The complex is known for ongoing incidents of violence involving inmates, leading to lockdowns, not to mention the threat to the safety of fellow inmates and officers, and staff.

As it was reported by WJHL only last week, "a maximum-security inmate in Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX) died after ingesting fentanyl last year, state officials confirmed after months of requests. The article stated that "Angelo Bunting was 24 years old when he died in NECX custody. He was serving a combined sentence of eight years after pleading guilty to an aggravated robbery charge in Shelby County, according to court documents...Bunting was found dead in the Mountain City facility in late 2022. Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) public information officer Robert Reburn said Bunting’s death certificate classifies his death as accidental and lists the suspected cause as fentanyl intoxication."

The article also mentioned that "TDOC also continues investigating how Bunting acquired and ingested fentanyl, despite his maximum security status. Reburn also declined to release autopsy results due to the investigation’s status."

Weighing in on the topic Tennessee State Representative Scotty Campbell said, “It is paramount that proper protocol be followed. There’s always room for improvement and this report (TDOC screening technology, body scanner) made it clear that it was necessary that changes be made. I’m glad the Governor is taking action to get this resolved." 

Referring specifically to efforts made on behalf of NECX, Campbell said, “I have had multiple conversations with the Tennessee Department of Corrections in Nashville regarding safety for everyone at Northeast Correctional Complex.  Unfortunately, weapons and inmates don’t mix. My immediate question was how do they get weapons?”

Sadly, Campbell also lamented that inmates making weapons out of nearly anything, including paper and parts of the building materials, is very common in prisons. 

“There have been weapons checks at the complex here in Johnson County, and I am going to be requesting that there be even more. They need to be routine and very frequent.  “

 It is hoped that the TDOC screening technology, which is said to be safe and meets national health and safety standards, will be a positive addition to the current safety measures.

Individuals with a pacemaker or in a wheelchair, children sixteen (16) years of age or younger, pregnant individuals, or those who think they may be pregnant will not be required to clear the body scanner, which according to a statement by TDOC, does not mean, a free pass to enter the complex.  

“Individuals with other mobility or physical conditions preventing the use of the body scanner will be required to undergo all other security measures and must produce documentation (doctor's note, etc.) during subsequent visits,” the release said.

 Anyone attempting to introduce contraband into a correctional facility will be arrested and could face criminal prosecution.

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