GREENFIELD — A small bag of pills hidden under someone’s tongue. A syringe rolled up in the waistband of a person’s pants.
On more than 30 instances in the last two years, inmates at the Hancock County Jail have been caught with illegal substances, many of them having smuggled the contraband into the facility despite having undergone a routine search during the book-in process.
Once inside their cellblock, they often pass out the drugs as they make new friends — a dangerous practice sheriff’s department leaders are hoping to eliminate with a new body-scanning device that will now be used to search all inmates who enter the facility.
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The body scanner produces an image similar to those created by an X-ray machine, which can reveal contraband — like drugs, paraphernalia or weapons — hidden on or in an individual’s body.
For decades, jail officers were allowed to strip search every individual who was booked into a county holding facility, Craig said. But an Indiana judge in mid-2016 ruled the practice violated the inmate’s constitutional rights, especially when the search resulted in additional criminal charges.
Now, only those charged with felonies and those arrested on misdemeanors where “a reasonable suspicion exists that an inmate may be in possession of weapons, drugs or contraband” can be strip searched, according to the state’s administrative code for county jails.
Body scanners reduce the chance someone can make it through a basic search with contraband, officials said.
Hancock is the second county in the state to install a body scanner in its jail, officials said. At the end of last year, county officials set aside nearly $118,000 to purchase the device in an effort to make the local jail more secure.
The body scanner is easy for jail officers to use and less invasive than the strip searches inmates underwent in the past. The machine produces a nearly untraceable amount of radiation in order to create a digital image of a person’s body, clearly highlighting a pen in a pocket or something more dangerous, said John Shannon, president of OD Security, the company that developed the device.
OD Security is the second company in the nation to harness the technology for surveillance purposes, he said. Their devices are now being in used jails and prisons in 20 states, though they expect to grow over the next year; the device now in place in the Hancock County Jail is the company’s first to be installed in Indiana.
Passing through the scanner is similar to going through a security checkpoint at an airport, and the image the device produces pops up on a touchscreen that jail officers can easily enlarge with a swipe to zoom in on suspicious shadows, Shannon said.
The process won’t only be more secure; it’ll save time in most cases. A body scan takes about eight seconds to complete compared to the two-plus minutes officers used to spend searching inmates for contraband during book-in, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Craig, who oversees the jail.
Department leaders anticipate that as word of their new device spreads through the local law enforcement community, other Central Indiana police departments will bring their inmates to Hancock County for occasional scans, especially those who are suspected of having contraband but who won’t consent to a strip search.
The change in search rules last year meant more than 60 percent of Hancock County arrestees might not be as thoroughly searched as others, Craig said. And for those who were subject to them, the searches weren’t a perfect system, as some inmates resorted to swallowing contraband or hiding it in body cavities in order to smuggle it into the facility, he said.
Records show jail inmates successfully smuggled drugs into the facility 16 times in 2016 and 17 times in 2015; and officers feared those numbers would increase as low-level offenders who might be addicted to drugs realized they weren’t going to subject to an invasive searches when arrested. In one instance last year, 15 inmates tested positive for methamphetamine after one sneaked the drugs into the jail.
As concern grew over the county’s drug problem, those overseeing the jail began brainstorming ways to keep addicts from feeding their habits behind bars, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy.
In October 2015, the department stationed a K-9 in the jail to sniff out drugs and weapons. They also forged a partnership with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department — which has utilized a body-scanning device for about two years — to take inmates under suspicion of having drugs there for scanning as needed.
Now those trips are no longer necessary, and jail officers are hopeful the device keeps inmates safe. In the three weeks since the device was installed, it’s already helped officers prevent one woman from smuggling meth into the facility.
Shannon said that’s the first example of the success that will undoubtedly continue.
“… (Jail officers’) jobs are difficult, and (inmates) spend a lot of time trying to figure out creative ways to hide things. Thankfully this system will help them detect it,” Shannon said.