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New body scanner keeping drugs, contraband out of Maine jail

Before the body scanner, staff was required to pat down new inmates with their hands

By Steve Sherlock
Sun Journal

AUBURN, Maine — The Androscoggin County Jail has a game-changing weapon to stop drugs, weapons and other contraband from being smuggled into the facility.

The new Intercept body scanner, in use since early June, has given the county Sheriff’s Department the upper hand in keeping inmates and staff safe.

The unit is manufactured in the United States by Tek 84. Using X-ray technology, the machine scans the inmate from head to toe, searching for metallic and nonmetallic items that may be hidden in clothing or in a body cavity.

No more intrusive pat-downs and strip searches.

“It’s been great,” Maj. Jeffrey Chute, jail administrator, said. “It’s exceeded my expectations.”

As a sign that the machine is doing its job, no one has been caught attempting to smuggle in drugs or other contraband, he said. When advised that they will face more serious charges if they are caught trying to smuggle contraband into the jail, several inmates confessed they had something hidden and turned it over to authorities before getting scanned, Chute said.

One of the few county jails in Maine to have a body scanner, Androscoggin County received its device when the Budget Committee, on its own last fall, authorized the county to spend more than $150,000 on such a device as a way to save lives. While it was a long-term goal, the Sheriff’s Department had not requested purchasing a body scanner this fiscal year.

Every employee in the jail has taken the three-hour training class on how to use it, Chute said.

Regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the Intercept uses a weak X-ray beam to produce a medical-like photograph that features the skeleton and some internal organs. The device uses 1% of the X-ray level used by medical providers and takes 3.8 seconds to produce an image. The horizontal beams allow the shortest path through the body, just 11 inches according to the manufacturer.

“The quality of the photographs is amazing,” Chute said.

By using such a low dose, federal safety standards allow each person to be scanned a thousand times in a year.

Before the body scanner, the staff was required to pat down new inmates with their hands.

“We had to physically search them,” Chute said. “We would also do a strip search if we had cause, but that had limitations.”

The jail is scanning all new inmates as part of its processing procedures. The unit can also be used to scan incoming packages.

Contact visits are not allowed now due to the pandemic, but when they are, all inmates will be scanned afterward.

The unit appealed to Chute because it measures just 34 inches by 72 inches.

“It fit through the door of our facility,” Chute said.

The device also has a camera to photograph the inmate during the scan. It stores up to a million images.

An unexpected benefit, Chute said, was the device also takes the person’s temperature — a perfect added feature during the pandemic.

The use of body scanners in jails is slowly growing. Earlier this year, Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset installed a unit the same as Androscoggin County is using, Chute said. Cumberland County Jail in Portland has an older model. Other counties, including Aroostook, are looking at purchasing scanners, Chute said.

(c)2021 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)