GREENFIELD — Drug-related activity at the Hancock County Jail cells has dropped in the year since county officials put a $120,000 body scanner in the facility to heighten security.
When the jail was relying only on pat-downs and strip searches, at least 17 people in 2015 managed to get through the book-in process with drugs that were later found in their cellblock.
Since the scanner was put in place in October 2016, roughly five people have been caught with something they shouldn’t have in their cells, said Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Craig, who serves as the jail commander.
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Another 58 people were stopped during the book-in process with contraband caught by the scanner, which is now used on every arrestee.
The 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 a person’s body.
Prior to purchasing the scanner last October, most Hancock County arrestees were subjected only to a pat-down search after being brought to the jail; state law dictates jail officers can strip search only inmates who face felonies and those arrested on misdemeanors charges where “a reasonable suspicion exists that an inmate may be in possession of weapons, drugs or contraband.”
Those searches couldn’t always find the contraband inmates swallowed or had hidden in body cavities.
The scanner creates a digital image of a person’s body and highlights items that don’t belong. Passing through the scanner is similar to going through a security checkpoint at an airport, officials said.
The scan takes about eight seconds, and the image the machine produces pops up on a touchscreen that jail officers then examine, zooming in and out on shadows they find suspicious.
The announcement to purchase the scanner came in mid October last year, after two concerning incidents when inmates were caught with contraband.
In July 2016, two men serving time in the work-release program at Hancock County Community Corrections overdosed after smuggling drugs into the lower security correctional facility that sits next to the jail. Both were hospitalized briefly but recovered.
A month later, officials learned a woman had brought drugs into the jail and passed the drugs out to other inmates. Fifteen women in her cell block tested positive for methamphetamine and narcotic painkillers, and, as a punishment, they were put on lockdown — confined to their individual cells at the jail for 23 hours a day — for 30 days, officials said.
Nothing like those incidents has been reported so far this year, and sheriff’s department credits that to the introduction of the scanner.
The device has been used some 3,000 times since January, mostly on new arrestees being brought to the jail; but the scanner also is used to conduct random searches of the inmates participating in the work-release program.
In those 3,000 scans, officers have caught people with items including methamphetamine, pills, money, cigarette lighters and syringes.
Even the best technology isn’t 100 percent effective, officials added.
One inmate managed recently to smuggle spice, or synthetic marijuana, into the jail by stuffing it into a cast on his arm. The man was being kept in a single cell where he couldn’t interact with others or share the substance he’d managed to bring in, and jail officers found and confiscated the drugs a few days into his stay.
Others have hidden suboxone strips — a paper-thin and quarter-sized bit of digestible film that contains a dose of prescription-strength narcotics — in between their toes.
Those folks passed through the scanner just like everyone else; but the suboxone strips were so thin and the baggie of spice blended so well with the wrappings on the injury, officers couldn’t spot them on the image.
Arrestees faces additional criminal charges if caught with drugs, proving how addicted some of the area’s residents are to the substances they use, Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart said.
Still, he often wonders how much worse it could have been if the body scanner hadn’t found the contraband on the 58 people who were caught so far this year. When drugs are involved, the risks are high, and he never wants to face a situation where someone overdoses or dies inside the facility, he said.