FONDA — Efforts to detect potentially dangerous contraband before it can be brought into the Montgomery County Correctional Facility will be enhanced through the recent installation of a full-body scanner.
“We’re trying to do what we can to keep everyone safe and constantly trying to move forward in the world of technology,” Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith said Thursday.
The Soter RS installed around a week ago uses transmission image technology to detect contraband items, such as weapons, drugs or cellphones.
The roughly $140,000 equipment purchase supported by county officials was funded through revenue taken in by the jail providing pre-trial detention for other counties or the U.S. Marshals Service to individuals facing state or federal charges.
“Sheriff Smith makes staying on top of the latest technology a priority,” said Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort in a prepared statement. “I commend the sheriff for his commitment to the continuous improvement of the safety and security at the correctional facility.”
The new equipment will be used to scan incarcerated individuals entering the facility, following a contact visit or undergoing investigation for suspected contraband. The system is capable of identifying materials that have been concealed externally or internally.
“This will scan them and show any abnormality,” Smith said. “The goal and purpose of this equipment is to assist in identifying and hopefully eliminating contraband from coming into the building.”
In the past, screening for banned items at the jail was limited to the use of hand scanners, pat searches and interviews. Smith said staff do “amazing” work keeping out potentially harmful materials, but the former methods of detection weren’t infallible.
“It’s hopefully a game changer for us and makes our facility that much safer,” Smith said of the new body-scanner.
Corrections staff have long contended with attempts to sneak prohibited materials into facilities, but it used to involve more improvisation by people typically without advanced knowledge they would be taken into custody.
The elimination of pre-trial detention for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges through the state’s bail reform laws has changed that, according to Smith.
“Now people know exactly when they’re coming to jail,” Smith said. “If they’re getting sentenced, they sometimes take advantage of that and try to prepare to smuggle some items in.”
Cases involving contraband inside the jail have been increasing in recent years, according to Smith. In total, there were 70 incidents involving some form of contraband in the facility just last year.
“People do anything and everything to take advantage of the system,” Smith said. “There is the potential for people to bring things in that are harmful to themselves and others.”
Most last year’s incidents involved drugs, including tobacco products, stockpiles of extra medications, narcotics and fentanyl containing substances. Some involved makeshift weapons fashioned from common objects.
“Some of those contraband cases are dangerous and others are minor, but any contraband in the facility is a potential safety hazard to staff,” Smith said.
Acknowledging jail procedures are rarely discussed so openly, Smith wants to spread the word about the enhanced screening equipment to serve as a potential deterrent against future smuggling attempts.
“Our duty is to keep everyone safe; staff, incarcerated individuals and visitors,” Smith said. “It’s absolutely essential to do everything we can.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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