Wisconsin County Looks to High-Tech Tools to Secure Jail, Court

Tech like mail-screening device and body scanners will be put to use to more easily find contraband.

by Andrew Dowd, Leader-Telegram / July 2, 2018

(TNS) — Wisconsin's Eau Claire County sheriff’s office has been getting price quotes on high-tech security equipment for the jail and courthouse for county supervisors to consider when putting together the 2019 budget.

Body scanners that would detect weapons or drugs concealed on a person entering the county buildings and a device that would screen jail inmates’ mail for contraband are technology the sheriff’s office has been researching.

At its 4:30 p.m. meeting Thursday in the courthouse, the county’s Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee is scheduled to hear prices and lease options for the equipment.

“All this is is bringing information to the law enforcement committee first and foremost,” Sheriff Ron Cramer said.

His office is presenting dollar figures during summer so the County Board has them in mind before it begins deliberating the 2019 budget in fall and whether it would buy or lease any equipment.

A full-body security scanning system would be $118,750 to buy or $1,667 monthly payments for a seven-year lease, according to a price quote from OD Security North America of Daniel Island, S.C. A jail mail screening system from ChemImage Corp. of Pittsburgh would cost $156,450 upfront or five annual payments of $34,955.

In the jail, the technology would be used to cut down on illicit items — mostly drugs — smuggled behind bars.

Inmates have found inventive ways to bring methamphetamine, LSD and other drugs into the jail, along with other restricted items such as cigarettes and lighters, Cramer said.

“Contraband does get into jails in different ways,” he said.

Hiding drugs or other items inside a body cavity is one method. Unless the person voluntarily surrenders the contraband, the sheriff’s office must get a search warrant and bring the suspect to a hospital for removal, Cramer said.

Lacing pages of a book or letter with drugs is another way drugs have gotten into jail. Because of this, the jail stopped allowing people to send paperback books to inmates, who now must order and receive them directly from a bookseller.

Stella Pagonis, a county supervisor and local attorney, has heard stories of drugs found in envelope glue and postage stamps that got to the jail.

“The level of ingenuity on the part of the criminal thinkers has increased,” she said.

Pagonis, a member of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee, will see the presentation on the screening equipment on Thursday. Also, as a Finance and Budget Committee member, she expects screening in the jail and security for the courthouse will be part of budget deliberations later this year.

Cramer acknowledged costs of increased security would be weighed against other budgetary issues, including discussion of a proposed $30 annual vehicle registration fee to pay for county highway upkeep. The sheriff’s office also is dealing with its added costs of sending inmates to neighboring counties when the Eau Claire jail is full. For the first five months of 2018, Eau Claire County has paid $96,400 to Chippewa and Dunn county jails for temporarily housing its inmates.

Creating a security screening checkpoint at the courthouse’s main entrance or on the second floor where courtrooms are located has been a perennial request in recent years, but hasn’t made it into the final budget.

Security for the public and employees has been a persistent concern, and Cramer expects the screening will be discussed again for next year’s budget.

“We’ve got a lot of people coming and going from the second floor,” he said.

Staffing costs associated with a checkpoint has been the primary hold-up, Cramer said, especially as the sheriff’s office still sees a need for more employees for the jail and courtrooms.

©2018 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.