WEST MICHIGAN – It’s likely impossible for correctional officers to know exactly how many drugs and weapons are smuggled into jails across West Michigan. But thanks in part to a technology commonly used at airports, they hope to drastically reduce that number.
Full body scanners were a topic of debate recently due to privacy concerns, and a lack of privacy is exactly what some officials are hoping for once the machines are installed in the jails.
The Allegan County Sheriff’s Department has two full-body scanners in its possession. Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf said he is in the process of acquiring one of his own and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department said it’s on a short list to get a new scanner soon.
The sudden rush to get full-body scanners into jails in West Michigan likely has to do with a surplus from the manufacturer. The Transportation Security Administration or TSA, said there are two types of scanners used by airports across the country.
According to TSA, more airports are only using the machine that gives the passenger the most privacy, so that leaves the other device up for sale and jails are buying them at a discounted price.
Inside jails there is a strict system of checks and balances.
Captain Chuck Dewitt, with the Kent County Jail, describes what happens each time a person is booked into his jail, “Every inmate that comes into our facility, there will be a pat-down search.”
Experience has shown those within law enforcement that criminals have a system as well.
“Right now that affords them the opportunity to conceal contraband, conceal weapons and we run the risk of that type of property getting into the jail itself,” said Captain Frank Baker with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department.
Even with extensive searches conducted daily, items still get through and Captain Baker said, that puts people at risk. “I’d be naive to think that we are able to find everything.”
“If a weapon gets into the facility, if an inmate was to get injured by that weapon or an officer was to get injured by that weapon, obviously that’s a huge liability to us,” said Baker.
“They know full well that they are going to jail and now they are trying to smuggle it in and it gains them power within the facility,” said Dewitt.
For the past eight months in Kent County, they’ve had an x-ray machine to scan inmates. A similar device to the full body scanners they are currently trying to acquire.
“They will go through the x-ray machine to determine if there was something that was hidden on them or within their body that we need to know about,’ said Dewitt.
Having an additional scanner would give Kent County another layer of defense for those inmates on work release. That’s exactly where one of the two scanners in Allegan County’s possession will be placed as well. The other, according to Baker, will go in the intake at the new jail set to open in March, 2014.
Baker said, “This is one of those type of scanners that would allow us to make those type of searches in a less intrusive way than traditionally have been done.”
As far as price is concerned, Dar Leaf the Barry County Sheriff said the machines were sold to the government for $160,000 a piece. Leaf said his office will be able to secure one for $7,500 after help from the county’s insurance provider.