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County to buy scanner to eliminate jail contraband

By Michael Wetzel  

For the Enquirer 

Morgan County will spend $181,000 on two scanners and a metal detector that weren’t included in its fiscal 2020 budget, but officials said the equipment will keep contraband out of the jail and reduce liability for body searches that employees dread.  

“It gives us another tool to secure the facility,” Sheriff Ron Puckett said. “Hopefully it will eliminate all contraband in the jail.” 

The commission voted Tuesday to pay Adani Co. of Miami Lakes, Florida, $156,000 for one full-body Conpass DV dual view transmission X-ray screening system; $15,405 for a BV 5030 baggage scanner; and $8,895 for a CEIA MSD ferromagnetic system metal detector.  

All costs include warranties and training. The money will come out of county reserves. 

District 4 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie was one of a five-man delegation from the county to visit the East Arkansas Regional Prison in Brickeys, Arkansas, in October to get a firsthand look at the scanning system. 

“It was so thorough, in six seconds,” he said. “With this system, you don’t have to touch them. That’s a huge liability issue for us.” 

District 2 Commissioner Randy Vest said the “ease of operation and detailed images” won him over during the demonstration at the prison. 

According to the Adani website, the system can reveal narcotics, pills, medicines, miniature cellphones, SIM cards, flash drives, bills and coins, razors, needles, syringes, weapons, knives, detonators and explosives. 

County Commission Chairman Ray Long said not only will the dual-view scanner prevent contraband from entering the jail, it could lower inmate medical costs.  

In fiscal 2019, the county spent $1.2 million on inmate medical costs. Long said the fiscal 2020 budget has another $1.2 million listed for jail medical costs. 

“Keeping drugs out of the jail is important to us,” Long said. “Drugs in the jail cost us on medical bills and lawsuits later … Insurance costs are not going down, but we’d like to cut down the number of claims. From our standpoint, we don’t see any downside to having this scanner.” 

Puckett said he wanted a better way to perform body searches. 

“When I took office, I didn’t even realize it was something we needed,” he said of the full-body scanner. “As far as searching an inmate, our insurance provider made the recommendation that we consider getting one.” 

The Morgan County Jail is the first county lockup in the state to use this model of scanner. Long said it’s not about being first; it’s about staying ahead of the inmates. 

“Inmates go out on work release. They sometimes are trying to bring things back in,” Long said. “They are criminals. They are looking for ways to beat the system. There’s no way to hide anything if you go through this scanner. If you have anything on you, it will stand out.” 

He said the prison staff in Arkansas showed them a variety of images where inmates were trying to trick the scanner. 

Long and Puckett said they aren’t worried about inmates who might claim the body scanner is an invasion of privacy. 

“There are not rights in jail,” Long said. “There’s no privacy in jail. If you don’t want to go through this scanner – obey the law, be honest and open and stay out of jail.” 

Puckett said some new inmates think they won’t be searched and try to sneak things in, and some trustees think they have privilege and won’t be searched. 

“They are all searched,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t miss things with our manual body cavity searches. Jailers won’t have to perform body searches any longer.” 

Puckett has cited jail guards’ dislike for performing body cavity searches as one reason for high staff turnover. 

Long said it will likely take a couple of months to get the nearly 1,900-pound full-body scanner in place. Training the booking staff should take a couple of days, said Puckett, adding he plans to be trained on the system, too.