Inmates who smuggle drugs or weapons into the Butler County Jail put corrections officers and other inmates in danger, but a new body scanner reportedly is making a difference in its first four months of use.
“It is a big deterrent,” Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said Wednesday.
In March, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office installed a body scanner at the jail to help detect any type of contraband smuggled into jail in body cavities.
“People know we have it,” Dwyer said. “The inmates know they are going to go through it when they get in here and, unfortunately, 80 percent of people coming through that door have been here before and they know.”
That means more people are “dumping stuff,” Dwyer said, both in cruisers and outside the facility, before stepping into the booking area of the Hanover Street jail. There is an additional criminal charge of conveyance into a detention facility if the contraband is discovered by the scanner.
The scanner has also been used to help find items that corrections officers believe have already been smuggled into the jail.
“If we get information something had been smuggled in and we can identify a group of inmates, we will scan those inmates to see if they have contraband on them,” Dwyer said.
This sometimes occurs when inmates leave the facility for court or work duty.
The $49,000 price tag for the scanner came from commissary money collected at the jail. Dwyer said the department gets a small portion of the commissary sales that can be used to benefit inmates. The county received a good deal from a company wanting them to test out the new canning system, Dwyer said.
Drugs and weapons are obvious items prohibited in the jail, but anything that can be fashioned into a weapon, such as nail clippers, also are contraband.
“If someone brings heroin in here and someone overdoses, that is major problem. If someone brings a weapon in here, the chances of it being used on another inmate is also significant. A lot of what you find in jails with shanks and everything else is people trying to harm other inmates,” Dwyer said. “So keeping contraband down is a direct benefit to inmates above and beyond just patting someone down.”
The scanner is located in a separate alcove inside the booking area. Corrections officers trained to know what to look for sit at a screen and view images similar to X-rays.
“Metal lights up like a rainbow in the night,” said James Turco, a corrections officer for five years.
Finding drugs or soft material smuggled in a body cavity is a bit trickier. Turco said a trained eye looks at the “symmetry” of the body for something out of place.
Turco said the scanner is a good addition that helps keep everyone safe.
“It’s a hell of a machine, ” Dwyer said.
The chief deputy noted that inmates are very “cunning” with their ability to smuggle in items, and jailers are always trying to stay one step ahead. The scanner is a big step.
Dwyer and Major Mike Craft remembered a time when such a scanner would have prevented hours of messy work to recover a loaded gun brought into the jail stuck in a female inmate’s vagina.
The inmate removed the gun in her cell and placed it in a potato chip bag. It was taken out to the trash later.
“We couldn’t chance that gun being in the jail or someone having it,” Craft said.
Detectives spent hours searching a Dumpster before finding the weapon.
Officials could not say how many items have been recovered directly through the scanner so far.
Butler County is just one of those in Ohio with a jail scanner.
The Hamilton County Jail in Cincinnati installed a body scanner in 2012; it cost about $200,000, paid for entirely through the jail commissary. Body scanners are already in use at the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg and jails in Belmont, Cuyahoga, Fayette, Medina and Stark counties. The Shelby County Jail received a scanner this summer, and Montgomery County has purchased one.