Pennsylvania Prison Wants Body Scanner to Find Contraband

Erie County Prison has asked the county for a $95,000 full-body scanner to locate drugs and weapons being smuggled into the facility. The machine can locate items not found in physical strip searches, prison officials say.

by Madeleine O'Neill, Erie Times-News / March 14, 2019

(TNS) — The Erie County Prison in Pennsylvania could soon have a new way to keep contraband from getting behind bars.

County officials are looking to purchase a $95,000 full-body scanner to more effectively search inmates entering the prison.

The walk-through scanner would allow prison staff to detect contraband, such as drugs, that may be hidden on a person's body or in a body cavity. Erie County Prison Warden Kevin Sutter said inmates regularly try to bring heroin, marijuana, pills, needles and other drugs into the prison.

"Some of these items have been detected in body cavities and weren't able to be detected during a physical strip search," Sutter said in an email. "The utilization of the scanner detects these items even if hidden in the body cavity."

Erie County Council's finance committee will review the request Thursday in advance of County Council's Tuesday meeting.

The county put out a request for proposals and received responses from two vendors, according to documents included with the finance committee's agenda.

Nuctech US Inc. submitted the lowest bid, at $95,000, and offered a machine that fit the county's needs, said Gary Lee, Erie County's director of administration.

"We thought it would be best to invest in the latest technology that can help us reduce contraband coming into the prison," Lee said. "We're viewing this as a positive investment to really improve the security at the prison for staff and inmates."

Lee said using body scanners to search inmates is a growing trend in correctional facilities. One reason the county gave for the purchase is that the Erie County Prison is the only facility of its size in Pennsylvania without a body scanner.

Like an airport body scanner, the device quickly provides a head-to-toe inspection of an individual without touching his or her body. The scanner can identify contraband such as weapons, cell phones and narcotics that might have been hidden under clothing, ingested or hidden in body cavities, according to Nuctech specifications.

Inmates will go through the scanner during intake and whenever they return from a transport outside the prison, Sutter said. He said there are no plans to use the scanner on visitors to the prison at this time.

The device will reduce the need to send inmates to the hospital for an X-ray to detect hidden contraband, Sutter said.

"I will never say that there will never be another overdose or death at this prison due to the obvious environment as a whole," Sutter said. "However this capability of early detection will lower that probability by allowing us to detect any contraband, drugs, weapons, etc., that an inmate may be trying to bring into the jail and allow us to resolve the issue before the inmate reaches general population."

©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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