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Contraband detection in prisons

SafeJail: Contraband detection in prisons using safe, continuous, passive terahertz imaging


Prisons in the UK and globally are facing continued and increasing drug and contraband problems. At least 15,000 mobile phones or SIM cards were confiscated in English and Welsh prisons in 2017 (one for every six inmates, a 50% increase in 3 years). Drugs were found 13,119 times in prisons in England and Wales in 2017 (35+ incidents per day, 3x increase from 2014), with smugglers resorting to technologies such as drones for delivery. Staff smuggling is also exacerbating the situation. All this is leading to unrest in prisons, compromising prisoners' health and compromising the safety of all prison stakeholders.

Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC), alongside Sequestim Limited, have participated in a project to offer a technological solution that addresses a significant challenge to prisons' safety - drugs/contraband detection. SafeJail technology allows safe (non-emitting) and continuous, non-interruptive scanning of prisoners, visitors and staff as they move about and carry out their normal activities.


The objective is to develop an in-line inspection, measurement and control system for high reliability and detailed monitoring and inspection of MEMS, micro-components and micro-devices based on a 3D optical quality inspection system (in-line) and nano-focused 2D X-ray system (near-line).

SafeJail Image



  • Generate revenue for supply chain partners of up to £30million over 6 years based on a calculated gross margin of 45%.
  • Increased productivity for prison officers: Pat-down searches are inefficient, time-consuming and subject to human error. Our technology will enable consistent automated searches of prisoners, visitors and staff, even when risk is heightened and when pat-down searches are impractical due to large movements of inmates at specific periods (lunch, exercise-yard, lockup etc.). SafeJail can scan over 1000 people per-hour. Done manually, this would require 25 prison officers. £150K direct labour savings estimated per year per Safejail system. 


  • Generate significant security exports in a strategically important sector for UKTI and the Department for International Trade. UKTI aims to increase UK security exports, currently 4%, bringing it in line with our defence export market, which enjoys 20%. We estimated aggregate export sales for SafeJail in the first six years at £12m.
  • SafeJail addresses key UK Government priorities; "Tackling the drugs problem in UK prisons". In January 2019 UK Gov and Police agreed that there is growing evidence that organised criminal gangs are infiltrating the prison service to facilitate the smuggling of banned items, and that enhanced scanning techniques were vital to fight the trend.


  • Sequestim is a Cardiff based company. The CCR's (Cardiff Capital Region) "Industrial and Economic Plan" aims to address the priorities facing the region and create some 25,000 new jobs. The plan strategically targets the ArtificialIntelligence and Data Science sector for a significant share of this job creation. AI and data science is a significant enabler to the SafeJail solution and aligns closely with the region's priorities, but also happens to be one of the four Grand Challenges identified by the UK Government Industrial Strategy. SafeJail helps put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence revolution.


  • One in six inmates becomes addicted to drugs while in prison while existing drug users struggle to break their addiction when drugs are in easy supply. A prison free from drugs will allow offenders the chance to reform, reduce re-offending and prevent further damage to themselves and to wider society. 


  • SafeJail is completely safe to use on humans as it uses radiation naturally emitted by the human body to illuminate all objects hidden beneath and between clothing and under hair.

Brunel Innovation Centre's Role

BIC leads the Image processing and AI automated threat detection system work package.

Project Partners


Brunel University London

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Related Research Group(s)

Brunel Innovation Centre

Brunel Innovation Centre - A world-class research and technology centre that sits between the knowledge base and industry.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 15/02/2021