Jail to invest in body scanner


HANCOCK COUNTY — County officials decided to invest nearly $120,000 in a body scanner for the county jail after an inmate sneaked drugs into the facility and passed them out to fellow inmates.

Hancock County Jail officials will purchase a full-body scanner in coming weeks to provide an extra level of security at the local facility. Currently, anyone arrested by police and brought to the Hancock County Jail is searched upon their arrival by an officer. Banned items are confiscated, officials said.

But occasionally, inmates still manage to smuggle contraband into the jail, officials say.

The body scanner will screen inmates for hidden items, such as drugs or weapons, before they’re booked into a cell.

Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s department’s chief deputy, told the Hancock County Council this week some inmates who use drugs want the narcotics so badly, they smuggle them in, even knowing that being caught with contraband could lead to additional charges.

In August, a woman sneaked narcotics and methamphetamine into the facility and passed the drugs out to other inmates. Fifteen women in her cell block tested positive for methamphetamine along with ingredients commonly found in narcotic painkillers, officials said.

As a punishment, the women were on lockdown — confined to their individual cells at the jail for 23 hours a day — for 30 days.

Burkhart said the body scanner should help keep contraband out of the facility, improving safety for jail officers and inmates alike.

Hancock County will be the first jail in the state to buy the equipment, but six other law enforcement agencies in other states use it, Burkhart said, and it comes highly recommended.

The scanner, which has a 10- to 12-year life expectancy, will cost the county about $118,000. The jail will pay $20,000 with commissary funds, which are generated through purchases inmates make while in the facility.

The county council will pitch in $98,000 from its food and beverage tax fund, which is collected from diners at area restaurants.

After the first five years, the council will also need to pay an annual maintenance fee of $8,750.

That’s a small price to pay to keep drugs out of the local jail, which might help prevent fights or overdoses, which can be life-threatening, council members say.

Lawsuits and medical bills that could ensue as a result of such events would far exceed the amount the council is chipping in, said councilman John Jessup.

“This makes it clear to the inmates we’re serious about keeping contraband out,” he said. “It’s a great investment. It could potentially save a life.”

Jail officials expect to receive the equipment before the end of the year.