A body scanner recently activated at Washington County jail has turned up contraband three times, including more than 20 pills, some of which contained a painkiller, on one person and two bags of suspected heroin on another.
The information was turned over to city police and charges are pending, Warden Edward Strawn reported this week to the Washington County Prison Board.
The drugs were revealed to be in cavities within the prisoners’ bodies, Strawn said. A camera also photographs the face of the person being scanned to keep inmates from using mistaken identity as a defense.
Although they are not illegal substances, it also turned up tobacco and a lighter on a work-release inmate. The jail is a smoke-free facility.
After the $113,000 purchase was approved in August, the body scanner was installed Oct. 29 and 31.
The equipment was paid for, not by taxpayers, but by the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is derived from receipts covering commissary sales, phone service and commissions on phone calls, plus interest and miscellaneous income.
When proposing the purchase, Strawn said an identification bracelet will track how many times an inmate is exposed to radiation when entering the jail as a new prisoner at the booking center or re-entering after court appearances or hospital trips, for example.
Four hundred scans equal one chest X-ray and 50 scans equal the amount of radiation to which a passenger would be exposed during a 2 ½-hour flight, according to Nuctech, the vendor from which the county purchased the equipment.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, which has a bureau of radiation protection to keep citizens from unnecessary exposure to radiation, certified the device Dec. 4, according to the warden.
After verifying the jail’s policy and procedure for use of the body scanner, the jail activated the device Dec. 31. As of Wednesday, the jail had conducted 1,546 body scans. Work-release prisoners are scanned when exiting and re-entering the jail.
Strawn said the equipment passed a re-inspection Jan. 23.
The scan takes less than 10 seconds. Strawn contrasted this with “a proper strip search” of a prisoner that takes 15 to 20 minutes.
According to the jail’s policy, every prisoner who leaves the facility is showered and searched upon his or her return. The shower and strip search also apply to newly incarcerated inmates.
The digital scanning and imaging device did not replace pat-down searches, Strawn said, which are done during “interfacility transports,” meaning when an inmate goes from one unit to another within the jail.
As of the end of December, the jail housed 292 males and 73 females, which includes both sentenced and unsentenced prisoners.