Pennington County Jail deputies didn’t waste any time putting their new inmate body scanner to use last weekend.
And the first use of the new $163,400 scanner paid off during a shakedown at the jail, detecting meth and other illegal items among some of the approximately 560 inmates in the jail’s general population, according to Pennington County Chief Deputy Brian Mueller.
The discovery of any amount of meth — less than one ounce in this case — is significant, Mueller said, with the smuggling of drugs pandemic in the nation’s corrections system.
“Any amount of drugs in our system is too much by our standards,” Mueller said. “Any amount of drugs we can stop coming into our facility is a victory.”
The scanner was purchased with $75,000 from the state Department of Corrections and the South Dakota Drug Control Fund, with the remainder coming from the county jail annual budget.
The scanner joins pat-downs and strip searches as an additional tool jailers can use to help stop smuggling by inmates willing to go to the extreme of placing drugs and even weapons and cellphones inside their bodies.
“We have a lot of different measures and techniques in place to catch people, but if they’re willing to bring things in their body cavity, we’re really challenged to really stop that flow of illegal contraband, particularly illegal drugs," Mueller said.
Jail commander Rob Yantis said the scanner, similar, yet more precise than what airline passengers face at airport security checkpoints, is an effective way to control the introduction, possession and movement of contraband in the jail, which processes about 12,000 inmates annually.
Body scanning will replace most, but not all, strip searches and can be used whenever a problem is detected and for random searches, he said.
Yantis said jailers went cell block by cell block during the weekend shakedown, thoroughly searching individual cells and scanning the majority of the jail’s general population.
“There is only so much we can catch with our other searches, so this is going to be a pretty substantial increase in what we can see,” Yantis said.
Mueller said there are five such scanners in use in the state, including one at a minimum security prison facility elsewhere in Rapid City. Others are in use at the state women’s prison in Pierre and at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls. He believes Pennington County is the first county jail in the state to have a body scanner.
Anyone brought to the jail’s booking area and slated to be admitted to the jail’s general population is subject to a head-to-toe body scan. It involves the inmate standing on a platform, which slowly passes through a door-sized rectangular opening, then back. The scanner emits about the same radiation as a medical X-ray.
Those expected to be quickly released on bond after an appearance before a judge and jail visitors, such as attorneys, are not subject to a scanner search, Mueller said.
Deputies are aware of people with outstanding warrants turning themselves in and being used as “mules” to bring drugs and other illegal items into the jail, Mueller said.
“Our message to the public is that we now have right tool in place to prevent those items from coming into our secure facility,” he said.