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Body scanners catching drugs, savings lives in WV regional jails



March 11, 2019

Body scanners catching drugs, savings lives in W.Va. regional jails


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The suspect was being booked at the South Central Regional Jail on a parole violation one morning last week. He had been jailed there previously – but this time faced a full-body scanner as part of the intake process.


The scan got a hit: syringes and a packet of a white powdery substance hidden in his body. A subsequent strip search yielded even more contraband: a black makeup bag containing additional syringes, a crack pipe, and more white powder in a baggie.


Inmates entering nine of West Virginia’s regional jails must now pass through a Soter RS Body Scanner. Similar to the devices found at airports and courthouses, the full-body scanners employ X-ray technology to reveal objects hidden both on and within the human body.


The scanners recorded 36 positive hits last month. They are also prompting would-be smugglers to ditch contraband in the booking areas and even outside the law enforcement vehicles that brought them to the jail. There was more than a dozen such instances in February, with several types of drugs, syringes and even cell phones found.


The full-body scanners provide an additional, crucial tool to intercept drugs, weapons and other contraband. Reducing contraband increases safety for officers and other staff. It improves outcomes for inmates receiving substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. It also saves lives.


Smuggled drugs have resulted in inmate overdose deaths and lengthy hospitalizations. At the Western Regional Jail, for example, at least eight female inmates suffered overdoses in 2017 that required emergency doses of Narcan and hospital stays for several of those affected.


“We’re failing the public if people come into our facilities and have access to drugs and when they leave here they’re still addicted to those drugs,” said Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, whose Cabinet department includes Corrections and Rehabilitation.


During the first six months of 2017, before the body scanners were installed, 32 inmates ended up in the hospital because of substance abuse issues including overdoses. Narcan doses, hospital life support and other medical expenses from those inmates cost taxpayers $1.5 million. In facilities where scanners are operating, no inmate has since required life support services.


Prescription drug litigation settlement proceeds allowed DMAPS to purchase the jail scanners as well as one for inmate work crews at the Pruntytown Correctional Center. The department is pursuing additional funding to bring full-body scanners to the remaining correctional facilities.


The scanners’ manufacturer provided the initial training for correctional officers. The Department of Health and Human Resources helped develop the policy to ensure the safe operation of the devices.


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LAWRENCE MESSINA (304) 558-2930 Lawrence.C.Messina@wv.gov