While you are in prison you will sometimes be searched by staff.
There a number of reasons why a person might be searched.
Common times to be searched are:
- on initial reception to prison
- after transfer from another prison
- when returning to prison after ROTL or escort
- follow a visit
- during a cell-search
There are different types of search that may be justified by different circumstances.
The type of search you might get depends on things like:
- whether you are in the high security estate
- whether are in prison for men, women or young people.
Rule 41 of Prison Rules 1999 says:
(1) Every prisoner shall be searched when taken into custody by an officer, on his reception into a prison and subsequently as the governor thinks necessary or as the Secretary of State may direct.
(2) A prisoner shall be searched in as seemly a manner as is consistent with discovering anything concealed.
(3) No prisoner shall be stripped and searched in the sight of another prisoner, or in the sight of a person of the opposite sex.
There is more detail about what circumstances each search should or can be used for in PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person.
What are the different types of search?
There are two main types of search – rub down searches and full searches.
Rub down searches
Rub down searches can be carried out by a single officer and must be done using open hands with fingers spread out.
During a rub down search you will be asked:
- if you have anything you are not allowed to have
- to empty pockets and remove jewellery including any wristwatch
- to stand facing the officer with your arms out
- to remove headwear (if you are wearing headwear for religious or cultural reasons there are more rules – see page 3 for more information)
The officer will check:
- Your front from neck to waist.
- Your back from collar to waist
- The back of your waistband
- The seat of your trouser or skirt
When searching women staff should search from shoulders to top of the bra and then from underneath their breasts to the waistband.
Rub down searches are not intrusive searches and should not normally have to raise or remove outer clothing.
However, if the prison staff think that something may be hidden you may be asked to raise or remove outer clothing. This must always be done in private and out of sight of persons of the opposite sex.
A mat should be provided for you to stand on whilst footwear is being searched.
There are two levels of rub down search – level A and level B.
Level B rub down searches are basic rub down searches as described above.
Level A rub down searches include extra checks such as asking you to remove shoes, checking in your hair and looking inside your ears nose and mouth.
Annex B of PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person includes more information about how a rub down search should be done
Full searches are more in-depth searches which require you to remove your clothing.
A full search must be
- carried out by two officers of the same sex as the person being searched
- out of sight of anyone else including other staff and prisoners.
You should never be completely naked during a full search – staff should let you replace clothing on the top half of your body before removing items on the lower half.
Hand-held metal detectors may be used during a full search for men and must be used as part of a full search for women.
Full searches of women differ from that of male prisoners and consist of Level 1 and Level 2 searches.
Level 1 searches involve the removal of clothing except for underwear.
Level 2 searches involve removal of all clothing including underwear. Level 2 searches should only take place if there is intelligence or suspicion that an item has been hidden.
Annex B of PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person includes more information about how a full search should be done
Prison officers are not allowed to conduct intimate searches.
An intimate search is defined as intrusion into a bodily orifice. For example, using hands to search your mouth or other private areas of your body.
Searching staff may look into your mouth during a rub down or full search.
Searching male prisoners
If there are grounds to suspect that a male prisoner has an item hidden in an intimate area then a closer visual inspection can be undertaken as part of a full search.
Male prisoners may be asked to squat during a full search. A record must be kept of when this request is made.
Women must not be asked to squat under any circumstances.
Women should not be subject to visual inspections of intimate areas.
There are a number of annexes within the PSI which cover considerations for specific groups of people.
Searching arrangements for religious or cultural reasons
Annex D gives guidance on searching arrangements for religious or cultural reasons.
Searching by female staff
Male prisoners who do not want to be searched by a female member of staff for religious or cultural reasons can request that this is carried out by male staff only.
Searching of Sikh Kachera
If you are Sikh and wear Kachera (or Kaccha) you should be offered another pair to change into during a full search.
Searching of religious or cultural headwear
Headwear for religious or cultural reasons, such as Sikh turbans, Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim caps or headscarves and Rastafarian headwear is subject to searching. Searching of headwear should be done with respect.
During a full search or Level A Rub down religious headwear is required to be removed and searched.
During a Level B rub down search you will only be asked to remove religious headwear for search if there is a positive reading from the hand-held metal detector or if staff think you have hidden something there.
If you are asked to remove religious headwear during a search this should be done in private and by staff of the same sex as you. Staff should allow you to remove it and not attempt to remove it themselves.
Searching of Muslim people by dogs
If you are Muslim and you are searched by dogs when attending Friday prayers, facilities must be made available to allow you to wash and change clothes quickly so that prayers are not missed.
Searching arrangements for people with disabilities
Annex E of PSI 07/2016 says that search procedures will need to be changed according to injuries or disabilities a person has.
You should be asked if you are in any pain before the search.
If staff are unsure how to conduct the search because of an injury or disability they should get advice from healthcare.
If you have difficulty standing for long period due to old age or disability, you should be allowed to sit down as much as possible during the search.
If you are a wheelchair user, you may be asked to transfer to another chair during a search. Specialist assistance and aids should be provided for this if needed. Your wheelchair will be collapsed and closely inspected.
If you have an artificial limb, bandage, plaster cast or any other medical item which makes the search more difficult, or if the prison think you are using it to hide something, they can get advice from healthcare staff about whether the item can be removed. If you are asked to remove the item this should be out of sights of others.
Searching arrangements for transgender people in prison
Annex H of PSI 07/2016 includes searching arrangements for transgender people in prison.
It states that a voluntary agreement should be put in place as to how this should be done.
If you have applied for or have obtained legal recognition of the gender with which you identify you must be searched in accordance with this unless alternative arrangements are agreed.
Searches must not be conducted to determine gender.
Technical aids for searching
Prison staff may use special equipment to help them with searches. For example:
- X-ray machines (see following pages)
- Metal detecting portals
- Hand held metal detectors
- BOSS chair – this is a non-intrusive scanning system within a chair, detect any metal objects hidden about your person
Use of X-ray body scanners
The Use of X-Ray Scanners (Adult Male Prisons) Policy Framework provides guidance about when and how a scanner should be used.
Who can be scanned?
You should not be scanned if:
- you are unable to stand unaided due to a disability
- you have female reproductive organs
If either of these apply to you ‘Do not X-ray body scan’ alert should be added to NOMIS.
There are no other health reasons why you should not be scanned. You can still have an X-ray body scan if they have had or are undergoing medical procedures. This includes any form of medical X-ray / radiotherapy.
Transgender women and post-operative transgender men who no longer have female reproductive organs can be scanned.
Who can I be scanned by?
There is no requirement for the X-ray body staff member conducting the scan to be the same sex as the prisoner being scanned.
However, if you object to it being a female staff member, the prison should, where possible, arrange for a male member of staff to conduct the scan.
Before a scan, the following steps must have been taken:
Staff must have assessed that a scan is justified and proportionate.
This means that all of the following five points should be met:
- intelligence or reasonable suspicion suggests that the prisoner is internally concealing contraband;
- there are no other means of detecting the suspected contraband
- it is necessary to reduce the risks posed by contraband being smuggled into or out of a prison and that these risks outweigh the health detriment caused by exposure to radiation;
- there are no other circumstances of the prisoner, the intelligence or the reasonable suspicion, which would make the exposure disproportionate; and
- there is evidence that the scan will not cause that individual to exceed the maximum annual dosage constraint of 700 µSv per individual in the current calendar year.
Staff must check you can be scanned by checking NOMIS alerts. If there is a ‘Do not X-ray body scan’ you cannot be scanned.
Staff must check your record on NOMIS to ensure that a further scan would not exceed the limit of 700 µSv per individual per calendar year. If records are missing, you must not be scanned until it is confirmed that you have not exceeded this dose.
Staff must explain the process to you. You must be provided with a reasonable level of information about the use of X-ray body scanners and the proposed radiation exposure.
You must have been provided an opportunity to hand over any contraband. If you do hand over items, the justification and proportionality of the scan must be reassessed.
Staff must ensure you are able to physically undertake a scan (for example you are able to stand for the duration of the scan).
During the scan, the following should happen:
- A trained member of staff should explain what will happen.
- You should be told clearly how to stand for the scan.
- You will be asked to remain still during the scan.
- You will be asked to put one hand on the rail and the other by your side.
- Anyone else should remain outside of the ‘Controlled Area’ around the X-ray body scanner
- After the scan has taken place, you may have to wait somewhere while staff look at the scan.
- If the image from the scan is not clear, they may ask for help from another trained member of staff or they may consider another scan. You can have more than one scan per day, as long as each scan is justified and proportionate.
Refusing or sabotaging a scan
If you refuse to be scanned or intentionally move during the scan to affect the image, you could be charged with an offence against prison discipline or have your incentive level downgraded.
You should not be restrained in ordered to be X-ray body scanned.
For every scan, staff should make a record on NOMIS of
- the date
- whether any suspected contraband was detected
Useful policy documents:
- PSI 07/2016 Searching of the Person.
- PSI 09/2016 Cell, Area and Vehicle Searching
- Use of X-Ray Scanners (Adult Male Prisons) Policy Framework