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Pa. warden considering using inmate canteen funds to buy body-scanning device

While officials have said canteen funds are generally used for programs that benefit inmates, there is no policy dictating how that money must be used

By Jeff Horvath
The Times-Tribune

SCRANTON, Pa. — Warden Tim Betti is interested in purchasing a body-scanning device for Lackawanna County Prison.

Similar to body scanners at airports, the device is akin to a low-level X-ray that allows prison guards to scan inmates for weapons and contraband. The scan takes approximately 10 seconds and exposes one to about as much radiation as they’d be exposed to by eating a banana or spending two hours in the sunlight, Betti said.

“The body scanner will allow the prison staff to conduct body scans of inmates that are far less intrusive than the traditional unclothed search, and to conduct more searches in a faster manner,” he said.

At a Lackawanna County Prison Board meeting Wednesday, Betti said officials have been unable to find available grant money to purchase the scanner. He’s considering using inmate canteen funds — money made on commissary sales at the jail — to buy the device, but said he’s awaiting further guidance from the state Department of Corrections before making any decisions.

The scanner Betti discussed Wednesday is made by the Chinese company Nuctech and costs about $105,000. It comes with a two-year warranty that officials could extend to five years for an additional $30,000.

As of Oct. 31, the balance in the canteen account was $538,473.72. The account also owned two certificates of deposit at the end of last month that together total $146,975.99, according to the county controller’s office. A recently reinstated GED program at the prison, which costs about $155,000 per year, also relies on canteen account funds.

While officials have said canteen funds are generally used for programs, services or goods that benefit inmates, there is currently no written policy dictating how and when money from the canteen account can be used. Echoing a call she’s made before, Stephanie Bressler, Ph.D., co-founder of the group Progressive Women of NEPA, asked the board Wednesday to establish such a policy.

Judge James Gibbons, who chairs the prison board, said officials are in the process of doing so.

Gibbons also asked Betti to keep the board apprised of any developments regarding the body scanner.