By Kris Jepson

Durham Prison is among 16 challenging prisons set to receive a new x-ray body scanner as part of government efforts to cut drugs and violence behind bars.

The innovative technology produces instant images from inside the human body and can reveal internally concealed contraband, including drugs, mobile phones and weapons. The images produced by the scanner provide a level of detail inside the body that has not been seen before in the Prison Service.

Prisons & Probation Minister, Lucy Frazer QC MP told ITV News Tyne Tees "we’re confident that this will help protect staff in prisons".

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The cutting edge technology will be installed at Durham in the Spring. The prison has been chosen because it deals with high volumes of remand prisoners, who pose the greatest risk of smuggling.

The £28 million set aside for the scanners is part of a £100m security package introduced by the government, which will also see other new measures to tackle drugs and violence in prisons, including X-ray baggage scanners and metal-detection equipment, phone-blocking technology and a new digital forensics facility.

HMP Durham Credit: ITV News

The installation at HMP Durham will begin in Spring 2020, with all scanners expected to be in place by the Summer. The technology is set to be introduced in other prisons across the estate later this year.

The government carried out a pilot, the '10 Prisons Project', which tested the new scanners at 10 other prisons. The minister said this was a "success".

We know that there’s a link between drug taking and violence, so we’re confident that this will help protect staff in prisons. We’re confident it will help ensure that prisoners operate in a safe environment. We undertook a pilot at 10 prisons and what we found is, by an introduction of a range of security measures, our mandatory drug testing showed a reduction in positives and it also reduced the level of violence in our prisons.

Lucy Frazer QC MP, Prisons Minister
Old scanner Credit: ITV News

The governor of HMP Durham, Phil Husband, told ITV News the scanners will help his prison guards to concentrate on rehabilitation.

It is a tremendous piece of technology. It actually allows the user to see what the man has secreted on him and it goes into such detail, you can almost tell if it’s a phone or if it’s a package of drugs. It really will help us no end in identifying men who are bringing in substances into the jail. It will mean that we can then begin our work on rehabilitation for men whilst they’re in our care.

Phil Husband, Governor HMP Durham

The government says the equipment is being funded by it's £2.75 billion pledge to transform the prison estate. This includes:

  • £100m to bolster prison security, clamp down on weapons, drugs and mobile phones that fuel violence, self-harm and crime behind bars

  • £2.5bn to provide 10,000 additional prison places and create modern, efficient jails that rehabilitate offenders, reduce reoffending and keep the public safe

  • £156 million to tackle the most pressing maintenance issues to create safe and decent conditions for offender rehabilitation.