Body scanner, drug amnesty box drop Mo. jail’s drug contraband by 90%
Off-site mail digitization and netting to prevent drone contraband further reduce the passage of drugs into St. Charles County jail
By Ethan Colbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. CHARLES, Mo. — County jail officials here say that changes installed in recent years have caused about a 90% decrease in the amount of drugs smuggled into the facility, and several more changes are on the way.
“We’re always trying to stay ahead of the curve. I believe that we’re there, but we always have to be vigilant,” said Daniel Keen, corrections director for St. Charles County. “We are ready for the next step and are looking to the future.”
Early next year, the St. Charles County Jail will begin requiring inmates to wear heart rate monitor bracelets that will alert jail staff if an inmate’s pulse rapidly increases or decreases. The jail will also launch a substance abuse unit, which Keen said will help provide resources for those suffering from addiction.
“That will be huge and I think shows that we are focusing on putting all of the right steps in place to protect staff and individuals within the jail,” said Keen, who has been in his role overseeing the jail for six years.
Keen estimated that at least 86% of inmates at the jail, which reaches a capacity of 516 people, suffer from a mental health disorder or a substance abuse addiction.
Those changes come on the heels of several others in recent years.
In 2018, the department purchased a body scanner, comparable to those used by the Transportation Security Administration, that all new inmates must walk through. The scanner cost about $200,000 at the time, jail officials estimated.
Then, in 2021, the department added a drug amnesty box after first seeing one used at a Kentucky corrections facility. The box allows inmates going through the booking process to turn in narcotics without fear of new criminal charges being filed. Over the past three months, staff have retrieved 7.3 pounds of drugs and paraphernalia, including fentanyl, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and opioids, through the amnesty box. The contraband is taken to a county-owned incinerator for disposal, Keen said.
The addition of the scanner makes the St. Charles County Jail one of only a handful of lockups in Missouri to have this technology, and Keen said he did not know of very many facilities in the area that offer a drug amnesty box.
“We’re not in the position to press charges. We can do it, but that’s not what we are here for. We’re here to make sure that no contraband gets into our facility and to ensure the well-being of our staff and the inmate population,” Keen told reporters on Tuesday after giving a tour of the jail’s main areas.
During the tour, Keen said the scanner is used to detect whether a person has swallowed or hidden narcotics on their body, such as underneath their armpit, in their ears, in their nostrils, between their toes or in their hair.
“The scanner won’t pick up everything because the way the scanner is designed it is looking for objects or something that has a little bit of mass. Fentanyl is the size of a grain of salt and unfortunately it doesn’t pick up something that small. That’s another reason why we wanted to offer the drop box, because we wanted to offer inmates every opportunity to get rid of the drugs,” Keen said.
Keen said he is no longer surprised by how people attempt to bring drugs into the facility, which processes some 14,000 inmates per year.
“When you start putting drugs into a body cavity, then you are itching to get drugs inside,” Keen said. If someone has swallowed drugs, they are referred to the medical department for consultation and, if necessary, taken to a nearby hospital where they will stay until they are deemed to be safe for confinement.
The department has also implemented policy changes for the delivery of books and inmate mail, which is now taken to an off-site facility and digitally scanned into a computer program that allows inmates to read the letter. No physical copy of the mail ever reaches the inmate, while books must now come from a third-party book vendor.
Keen said those changes were made after inmates were caught eating or smoking book pages, and letters had been soaked with various narcotics by people outside of the jail.
Keen said the department also recently installed bird-like netting to prevent any types of drugs or other items being thrown over the walls into the recreation yard at the jail. And signs are posted to discourage the use of drones in the area.
These changes were also touted as playing a key role in reducing the amount of drugs brought inside the jail.
Nick Post, a lieutenant with the corrections department, said he has seen these policy changes make a difference.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and this is the least amount of drugs we’ve seen in the past 20 years,” Post said. “It is working.”
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