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Body scanner security system looks for inmates with contraband

WARREN — Bad things happen when drugs and the jail mix, including drug overdoses, conflicts between inmates and black market power struggles.

But a new body scanner at the Trumbull County Jail should make the most common way inmates get drugs into the jail — hidden in or on their bodies — a lot more difficult, said Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Dan Lester.

“This is a huge problem and this is the answer, for sure,” Lester said.

Lester oversaw staff training on the new $118,000 OD Security North America body scanner Thursday.

Previously, inmates were searched for weapons, given a pat down in a contraband search and then observed while changing into prison garb to ensure drugs and weapons weren’t being brought into the jail, Lester said.

“When all proper procedures are followed, the only way to get drugs into this jail is by hiding it that way. Adding this step to the booking process will make it much harder to hide contraband that way,” Lester said.

Lester said drugs are a big commodity in a jail setting and can lead many different problems, including life-threatening drug overdoses — like one that put a young man being held on burglary charges on life support in April.

Timothy Kirkland, 19, was found unresponsive in a pod cell April 25 and an investigation found he voluntarily took drugs smuggled in by another inmate. The experience nearly cost Kirkland his life, his mother said, after the overdose led to an infection.

A recent search of cells in the jail with Warren’s K-9 turned up heroin, Lester said.

“The trends in here mirror what you see on the streets. There has been a huge spike of heroin in the streets and in the jails,” Lester, a 29-year veteran of the jail, said.

The majority of the people who are brought to the jail are there on drug-related charges, or are connected to drugs in another way, like stealing to pay for the habit, Lester said.

The corrections staff has to deal with the effects drug addiction has on the inmate population, including withdrawal from the drugs. The staff is trained on what to look for and there is a doctor on hand to treat inmates for various withdrawal symptoms, Lester said.

The machine won’t only reveal hidden baggies of drugs to the trained eye, but also items as small as a single pill taped to a thigh or a blade carefully tucked away, said Sam McIlroy, a trainer with OD Security.

The machine saves inmates’ prior images, so officers can compare their scans and ensure they aren’t overlooking something new that wasn’t on an old scan, McIlroy said.

And, if something does make its way into the jail, investigators can go back to the scans to see if they missed something and properly trace it back. Inmates found to have contraband in the jail can receive additional charges.

The machine’s operator uses a touch screen to examine the image and can go between different settings, including grayscale and x-ray, McIlroy said.

The imaging does not produce a life-like image of a person’s body, but does reveal some intimate details.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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