STRYKER — The Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio held a press event Wednesday morning to unveil its new X-ray body scanner because they want everyone to know it’s there.
The $145,000 machine was delivered Monday and installed Tuesday with staff training throughout the day on Wednesday.
“We hope it’s a deterrent,” CCNO Executive Director Dennis Sullivan said. “Smuggling contraband is a third-degree felony with a nine- to 36-month sentence. With that, and the fact that we’re almost certain to find anything, we hope to decrease offenses and make the facility safer for everyone.”
All inmates go through a strip search when they enter the facility, which means the best hiding spots for drugs and weapons are inside their own bodies.
“Even the most thorough strip search can’t find everything,” said Corrections Officer Jesse Gibson, who received an award for saving an inmate’s life earlier this year. “If they’ve gone through it enough, they start to figure out where the weaknesses are.”
A thorough strip search takes 10 to 15 minutes but the new body scanner is a non-invasive procedure and 10 times faster, said Corrections Supervisor Beth Miller. “It takes about 15 seconds and it’s not demeaning,” she said. “I’ve found knives, drugs and syringes but the most common items have been cigarette lighters.”
CCNO is a smoke-free facility and damaging sprinkler heads has been an issue. “So bad we had to track the repairs as a separate line item in the budget,” according to Executive Board member and Henry County Commissioner Bob Hastedt. Vandalism is also an additional felony offense and deputies are called out to investigate the damage but that hasn’t stopped the practice.
“We know the word is going to get out, especially after the first person gets charged,” Miller said. “That’s a good thing.”
CCNO purchased the new system with a five-year maintenance agreement through OD Security Systems of North America, in Collage Station, Texas, and Lucas Ritcher, the company’s head of technical services, led Wednesday’s training seminar.
“It’s not at all like an airport body scanner,” Ritcher said. “Those only go skin-deep. This one uses X-ray curtain beams 1/16-of-an-inch apart to scan everything, inside and out.”
It’s stronger than an airport body scanner but not nearly as strong a medical system, Ritcher said. “You might pick up a bone fracture but nothing small like cancer cells,” he said. “The point is to find high-density foreign objects so we don’t need that kind of radiation.”
Radiation is measured in “Banana Equivalent Dosage,” Ritcher said. (It’s an actual scientific term coined by Gary Mansfield of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1995. It means the radioactive potassium-40 isotope in a single banana equals 0.1 microsievert of exposure). One scan is the same as eating 15 bananas and an inmate can be scanned 167 times a year without risk (about once every 51 hours).
“You need to understand the extremes people are willing to go to,” Ritcher said.
OD Security has systems in 35 other Ohio counties and he keeps a library of images for training purposes, like a Nigerian drug mule with 50 balloons of cocaine in his intestinal tract and another who tried to smuggle a loaded pistol with three extra bullets.
“Internal is always a challenge,” Ritcher said. “No technology is foolproof but if we can detect it we can find it. No gloves. Nothing weird like that.”
The number of exposures will have to be tracked since every inmate will be scanned, whether they happen to be a new “backdoor entry” delivered by an arresting officer, or work-release inmates who enter and exit the facility on a regular basis. Sullivan said the jail processes 18 to 20 inmates per day.
“Fentanyl is the big concern,” Sullivan said. “Any drug package we find, we don’t want to open because we don’t know what will happen. Even a small exposure can be fatal, especially if a package bursts.”
Two months ago an inmate tried to smuggle a fentanyl package, which required a trip to the emergency room and surgery to remove it safely, Sullivan said. That cost taxpayers more than $10,000 and it wasn’t the first time — not even the first time this year. Medical removal without surgery still costs about $2,000 per patient.