Sponsored by Smiths Detection
By Rachel Zoch for Corrections1 BrandFocus
COVID protocols had slowed intakes to a crawl for the jail in Delta County, Michigan – but that hadn’t stopped offenders from smuggling in drugs, particularly meth. Jail administrators were looking for a way to better screen inmates for contraband and decided to invest in an X-ray body scanner.
Sgt. Jeff Vallier, recently promoted to jail commander, was instrumental in procuring and deploying the machine. He says incorporating the body scanner into their screening process made a huge difference within weeks.
MORE INMATES, MORE PROBLEMS
Delta County expanded its jail facility in 2019 from about 88 beds to 156. COs quickly discovered that their established inmate screening process wasn’t catching all the contraband, especially as inmates seem increasingly willing to hide drugs inside their bodies.
“With more inmates came more problems, especially with our work release program,” said Vallier. “They were smuggling in drugs and chewing tobacco, and a normal strip search wasn’t detecting it when they’re willing to put it up into a body cavity.”
Meth posed a particular problem, and drug use inside sparked fights and other disruptions. This created hassles and headaches for COs, as well as a disorderly environment in the jail and added charges for inmates caught with contraband.
DRUGS CAUSE DISORDER BEHIND BARS
Vallier recounts one incident involving two cousins who were incarcerated together. One cousin smuggled in meth and shared it with the other – but not all of it. When one cousin used the rest of the drugs without sharing, the two women started a screaming fight that soon had everyone else in the unit involved.
That fracas required physical intervention by the COs to separate and subdue individuals who were kicking and struggling with them and with each other, he added. The situation put everyone on edge and at risk of injury, and required a lot of administrative documentation.
“It’s a lot of reports, a lot of wasted time,” said Vallier, “and then it keys everybody up in the block that hears the screaming and the yelling, so it is just a hassle for everybody.”
It also means the offenders are isolated in the booking area again for a few days and then locked down with disciplinary measures. They also face more criminal charges, as detectives and prosecutors are brought in to start the criminal process on a new charge.
“Our goal isn’t to find the drugs and have people prosecuted,” said Vallier. “Our goal is just to keep the drugs out of our facility.”
WHEN X-RAY MET SALLY PORT
To better address the smuggling issue, Delta County applied for and received grant funding to purchase a body scanner. They chose the Smiths Detection B-SCAN, which was purchased from Command Sourcing, a body scanner distributor for Smiths Detection, and installed earlier this year.
While they waited for training, the B-SCAN was set up in the jail’s sally port for everyone – especially inmates – to see. Vallier and his staff made no formal announcements about the B-SCAN, but they readily answered questions about the machine when inmates who were coming and going noticed it – including when the jail planned to start using it for screening.
“We made it pretty known what it was and when we were gonna start it,” he said.
They let the word of mouth spread among the inmates – and their friends and relatives on the outside – while they waited for training.
LEARNING TO READ THE SCANS
A certified trainer from Command Sourcing led two days of training on site, including studying images from other facilities. Then, after a sweep of the entire facility, Vallier and his team scanned every inmate to further familiarize themselves with the machine and to establish a baseline for each individual.
They created a database for every incarcerated individual at the time so that if someone should be released and return to the jail, COs can compare the new scan to that clean scan to see if anything is different.
“It gave us a lot of practice in being able to detect what’s part of the body and what would be contraband or something they’re trying to conceal,” he said, “which is not an easy thing to do.”
In fact, the first individual they scanned tested their new skills in reading the X-ray images. Four supervisors carefully examined a potentially telltale shape on the scan image – but it turned out the man hadn’t gone to the bathroom in three days. The nurse gave him something to help move his bowels, and about four hours later the inmate informed the staff, who had to verify that he was simply constipated, not smuggling contraband.
“We unfortunately had to take a look at it to make sure there weren’t drugs in there,” said Vallier, “but then when we body scanned him, it was clear. So, like I said, reading those body images is a whole different set of skills we’re all trying to develop.”
SEEING MORE IN JUST 5 MINUTES
The B-SCAN has been added seamlessly to the jail’s existing screening process during intake and work release return. It doesn’t replace strip searches, says Vallier, but he estimates that it adds no more than five minutes per individual for a much more thorough screening. “It’s almost nothing” as part of an intake process that involves a 48- to 72-hour quarantine protocol for COVID safety, detox and medical observation, he adds.
“We strip search them, put them in our clean uniforms, put them through orientation, and then the last thing is we bring them up to the body scanner and scan them,” he said. “Same thing with people that go out for a furlough or work release. When they come back, they’re required to go through the scanner before they’re allowed back to their cell in the general population.”
NO DRUGS SMUGGLED IN SINCE THE JAIL STARTED USING THE B-SCAN
So far, so good, Vallier adds – in the first two months of operation, they have detected no contraband drugs with any of the new inmates coming in. He says COs working in the pod feel more comfortable now that the scanner is part of their screening process, because it reduces the level of uncertainty.
“You’re always watching the people back there, the new intakes. A lot of them don’t tell us the truth, and they hide their medical history, so we’re always worried about drug withdrawals or mental health issues,” said Vallier, “so at least we took one aspect away and we know they don’t have any drugs on them.”
Overall, the absence of drugs saves time and hassles for the jail staff and maintains relative peace inside the facility. Vallier says the inmates remain curious but seem to understand that smuggling drugs into the Delta County Correctional Facility is now a no-go.
“We tell them if they eat a cookie for lunch, we’ll know whether it’s got raisins or chocolate chips in it,” he said.
For more information, visit Smiths Detection.