New body scanner already proving successful at La. jail

"You can't do rehabilitation here if they're getting drugs inside the facility," Sheriff Becket Breaux said


By Katie Gagliano
The Advocate
        
ST. MARTINVILLE, La. — St. Martin Parish Sheriff Becket Breaux is hopeful that a new X-ray system at the St. Martin Parish Correctional Center will help prevent contraband from entering the jail.

The machine, called a "human body inspection system," is an X-ray machine offenders will pass through before being booked into the jail. The system will help catch hidden weapons and other potential contraband, like swallowed baggies of drugs, limiting the odds anything banned will make it into the prison population, Breaux said.

"When I was running for election, I said, 'If you can't keep your house clean, how are you going to keep the streets clean?'" he said.

Scanning will now be the first step in the booking process. Arresting officers or deputies will drive up to the booking area and enter the scanning room through an exterior door. On the other side of a window, booking agents will operate the scanner and review the X-rays in real time.

During each scan, the machine will snap a photo of the individual to ensure the right scan is associated with the correct person, the sheriff said.

If anything prohibited is captured on the offender's person, like a knife or gun, the arresting officer can remove it before bringing the individual upstairs for processing and a strip search.

The machine will hopefully be a difference maker in stopping illegal drugs entering the jail facility, Breaux said. While deputies can discover weapons in a pat down, it's impossible to know if an offender has drugs either in baggies in their stomach or shoved in another cavity, he said.

Even with intel, they would need to bring the offender to a doctor for a full medical review. Now, once the presence of suspected drugs is confirmed through the on-site X-ray, the jail's medical staff can do a treatment protocol, the sheriff said.

Breaux said he's been battling contraband in the jail since taking office in 2020. In fall 2020, the agency ran a large racketeering operation in the jail that netted multiple arrests.

The contraband operations can be pretty elaborate; inmates and supporters have bank accounts dedicated to the trade, people will get themselves arrested on minor charges just to introduce contraband, like drugs, into the jail and trustees will sometimes snag disguised drugs or other items while out picking up trash in the community, he said.

"You can't do rehabilitation here if they're getting drugs inside the facility," Breaux said.

The sheriff said the X-ray machine has already proven successful. After certifying staff on the machine, the scanner went into effect Tuesday and an inmate was found with suspected baggies of illegal drugs in his stomach, which were being evacuated under the oversight of doctors to later be confiscated.

Another arrestee was found to have dumped contraband outside the jail after learning of the scanner, he said.

"The biggest thing we want is a deterrent for them to not bring things inside," he said.

The sheriff's office purchased the machine for $130,000 through a state procurement process.

During onboarding for the machine, the sheriff said he was informed the machine's radiation output is significantly less than that put off by a medical-grade chest X-ray. He estimated a person could be put through the agency's machine 250 times before being exposed to the same amount of radiation a medical-grade machine produces.

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