Montgomery County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of a full-body scanning system to keep contraband out of the county jail — including dangerous opioids that have caused a number of overdoses and at least one death inside the bars.
The scanner — able to detect a firearm taped to a body, a needle in a pocket or a small baggie of drugs in an intestine — will be purchased from OD Security North America for $118,750.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department Major Matt Haines, the jail administrator, said it’s an unfortunate fact of the ongoing opioid crisis that more inmates are able to slip powerful drugs past security measures and into cells.
“Times have changed,” Haines said. “When you talk about carfentanil and things like that — where a few grains are actually enough to make you overdose — it’s hard to find everything that people are bringing in.”
Haines said the jail may go a few weeks without an overdose and then have two or three in the span of a few days.
“Even one is too often. It’s a correctional facility, it should be secure,” Haines said. “This will help us keep it more secure.”
The Montgomery County coroner determined Dustin Ryback’s November 2016 jailhouse death was caused by fentanyl. Another inmate was accused of supplying the deadly opioid from inside the walls.
The Greene County Jail is a couple weeks away from putting a similar scanner from the same company into service, said Major Kirk Keller of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
It was installed in late May, just two weeks after three inmates overdosed simultaneously in the same jail pod. They survived.
Jeremy Withers wasn’t as lucky. A full-body scanner would likely have detected the bag of drugs the 32-year-old ingested during a traffic stop. Hours after he was booked into jail, the bag opened with fatal consequences.
Work on the room is nearing completion at the jail in Xenia and officers have been trained.
Keller said the system is easy to use and safe, resulting in less radiation exposure than sleeping with a partner. Harder is identifying an anomaly off the resulting image.
”It’s not difficult to use the system,” he said. “The learning curve is in learning to read the scans and see the abnormalities in the body where something is being contained.”
Keller said he will be requesting additional staff as the operation requires another person per shift.
Body scanners are already in use at the Butler County Jail, the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg and jails in Belmont, Cuyagoga, Fayette, Hamilton, Medina, and Stark counties. The Shelby County Jail received a scanner last month
Plans at the Montgomery County Jail call for the first floor intake area to be modified to accommodate the scanner, Haines said. It could be months before the device is operational due to the renovation, installation, training and a state health department inspection the radiological system requires, he said.
Everyone entering custody and those already in custody and returning will step through the device, Haines said.
That lesson was learned not long ago when a later investigation showed an inmate work crew along Interstate 75 came across discarded drugs on the roadside.
“We had someone overdose,” Haines said. “That just showed us … that every inmate is going to be scanned.”