The Centre County Correctional Facility is planning to add a full-body scanner as a measure to enhance inmate and staff safety.
County commissioners on Tuesday voted to add to next week's consent agenda a contract with Nuctech US for the purchase of the system. The contract totals $113,000 and includes $95,000 for the scanner, a two-year warranty, insurance, installation, commissioning, training and technical support. An additional three-year warranty will be added for $6,000 per year.
Last year, state prisons, including Rockview and Benner Township, and county jails saw a number of inmate and staff illnesses believed to have been caused by exposure to illicit drugs brought into the facilities. State correctional institutes were placed on lockdown last summer after dozens of employees across the commonwealth became ill from unknown substances.
"We believe this machine will enhance our security at the facility and assist in our detection of contraband, more specifically illicit drugs entering the facility," Centre County Deputy Warden Glenn Irwin said on Tuesday. "As everyone knows in the past year there have been a lot of cases in the commonwealth of staff and inmates being injured and becoming ill from drugs. This machine will benefit the safety of all inmates and staff alike at the facility. It helps us prevent the person who may have an addiction, who may be coping with it very well, but if subject B brings in that may fuel the person’s want for the product."
Only inmates will be inspected by the scanner, not staff or visitors. The system will track who operated the machine at a given time, when an inmate was scanned and how many times they have been scanned, Irwin said.
Commissioner Mark Higgins noted that the machine uses low radiation, and Irwin said that 400 scans is the equivalent of one medical X-ray. Still, he said, a limit is placed on the number of times an inmate can be scanned and once that limit has been reached, the system notifies the operator and other security checks will be used.
Given the average length of stay for inmates at the county jail, Irwin said it's unlikely any would reach the maximum number of scans, which he did not specify for security reasons.
He added that the scanner looks for density of items within the body, so can detect both hard and soft items.
Once the scanner is installed, a certified inspector from the Department of Environmental Protection will inspect it and be involved in radiation safety training. Only staff who are trained by the manufacturer will be permitted to operate the machine, Irwin said. Initial training takes about eight hours, with additional training for radiation safety officers.
Only the warden and two deputy wardens will be authorized to download scans as system administrators, Irwin said.
Facility officials began researching scanners last fall and received demonstrations from five companies, as well as visiting other facilities with full-body scanners. The system selected is currently used by Clinton, Cambria, Erie, Tioga and Wayne counties, Irwin said.
"The machine we’re proposing to purchase provides all the features and functions we need for our facility," he said.
Commissioner Michael Pipe said the plans for a full-body scanner have been discussed at several Prison Board meetings and that he recognizes its importance for the safety of staff, inmates and visitors.
"It’s something we don’t want to have to do," Pipe said. "However with the enhanced methods and enhanced drugs that are out there, and weapons, we want to make sure we have an absolutely safe facility."