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Posted at 5:45 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Underwire bras cause angst at jail

By Ruben Castaneda
Ruben Castaneda

Last weekend, an overzealous officer at the Prince George's County Jail told women visitors -- including defense attorneys who wanted to visit their clients -- that they would have to remove their bras before they could pass the metal detector at the main entrance .

It seems the bras have metal wires in them that could set the device off.

Some women refused and didn't see their clients.

Brian C. Denton, the county's chief public defender, said four female defense attorneys contacted him, worried that a new policy was in place at the jail.

But on Monday, Denton called Mary Lou McDonough, director of the county Department of Corrections and got a clarification.

McDonough said she told officers at the jail that it is not the department's policy to require women to remove their bras before going through the metal detector.

"It was a training issue," McDonough said, with one officer, who happened to have been on duty.

McDonough said the jail began using a new metal detector about two weeks ago that is more sophisticated than previous models. Unlike scanners used at airports, the metal detector at the jail does not produce images of a person's body underneath their clothes, McDonough said.

But the new model does produce arrows on a graph, indicating where metal may be located. The machine is sensitive enough to tell the difference between the underwire of a bra and contraband -- such as a cellphone or a weapon, McDonough said.

"We've got new equipment that makes the jail more secure," McDonough said.

Jails in the Washington area and prison systems in Maryland and Virginia have different policies when it comes to underwire and metal detectors.

Visitors to the Montgomery County jail are not asked to remove their bras, said Arthur Wallenstein, director of the county's corrections department. If visitors set off the metal detector, a jail officer would wave a hand-held metal detector over their bodies, Wallenstein said.

If the hand-held detector buzzes, the question of what is setting it off would have to be determined before the visitor is allowed into the jail, he said. A visitor with a body piercing could resolve the issue by showing an officer the piercing, Wallenstein said.

In the Maryland state prison system, a visitor who sets off the metal detector will not be allowed in, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

A woman who frequently visits Maryland prisons as part of her job working for defendants said she keeps a sports bra in the trunk of her car when visiting those institutions. Sports bras don't have underwire.

Inmates in Maryland prisons often advise women visitors they should not wear underwire bras when visiting.

Women visitors to Virginia state prisons are not required to remove their bras before going through metal detectors, said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the state's Department of Corrections.

If a visitor sets off the metal detector at the entrance, he or she would be scanned with a hand-held metal detector, Traylor said. If the hand-held device goes off, the visitor could be asked to accompany a prison officer of the same gender to a secluded area to pull up his or her shirt to determine what was setting it off, Traylor said.

By Ruben Castaneda  | February 9, 2011; 5:45 PM ET
Categories:  Pr. George's, Prison Beat, Ruben Castaneda  | Tags:  Prince George's County jail  
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I don't see a problem here, don't allow ANY contact between visitors and prisoners. Talk through glass on a phone receiver, then it won't matter. And I wouldn't trust a defense attorney's any more than I would trust a prisoner.

Posted by: curiousGeorge4 | February 9, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

"Sports bras don't have underwire." Umm. Not exactly. Plenty of sports bras have underwire, just as plenty of non-sports bras don't have underwire.

Posted by: gk11 | February 9, 2011 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Would the x-ray also detect money hidden in a bra? If so, County Council member Mrs Jack Bee Johnson may not be allowed to visit friends.

Posted by: MrAardvark | February 9, 2011 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Well, those few prisoners who did not know they could smuggle knives or razor blades into jail in a visitor's bra know now. MD DPSCS has it right: set off the metal detector, and you don't get in. Period.

Or, like Virginia, expect an invasive search, and don't bother complaining about it. Whining PG public defenders will just have to deal with it.

Posted by: IncredulousAsEver | February 9, 2011 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Its a good thing there aren't so many underwire jock straps.

Posted by: polecatx1 | February 9, 2011 11:39 PM | Report abuse

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