RACINE — Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling says inmates, correctional officers and visitors to the Racine County Jail are all safer now thanks to body scanners installed there at the beginning of this year.
Every inmate brought into the jail is now subject to scan with either of the two “through-body scanners” installed in the booking area of the facility and in the Huber area, where work release inmates are housed. Workers estimated that around 7,000 inmates had been scanned so far this year.
Recently a scan of an incoming inmate showed an Altoid breath mint container with crack cocaine inside hidden in one of the person’s body cavities. Schmaling said the drugs would not have been found without the scanner, and could have resulted in an overdose in the jail.
“This is a lifesaver, the way I see it,” Schmaling said of the scanners.
Schmaling said he and Captain Bradley Friend began discussing options to make the jail safer after an inmate who had heroin in a body cavity nearly died of an overdose shortly after being booked into jail.
She had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when jail staff found her, but they were able to bring her back with Narcan before emergency personnel arrived.
They thought the scanners, which came at a price of $118,750 each, were a good solution. The scanners were funded with profits from sales at the jail commissary.
When an inmate goes through the scanner, the person stands on a platform and holds handles on either side. The platform then moves through the scanner as the prisoner stands still, and then a trained officer reviews the scan on a screen to find any contraband.
During a test scan on Friday, Daniel Eckblad found car key in the pocket of Schmaling’s son, Zachary Schmaling, along with a pen in one sock and a handcuff key in the other sock.
The scanner has features that prevents it from showing soft tissue like genitals or breasts to protect inmate privacy. But it does detect things like weapons and ingested items like a bag of drugs in an inmate’s stomach.
“People go to great lengths today to hide things on their person prior to an arrest,” Schmaling said. “We have a lot of individuals who come in who are drug addicts. They’ll go to great lengths to hide their drug of choice, oftentimes within body cavities.”
Schmaling called the scanners an “extreme deterrent” as people on the street and especially those in the Huber section of the jail become aware that they will be scanned upon entry.
He added that the scanner puts off very little radiation, 1.5 microsieverts, the same amount one would be exposed to by eating 15 bananas.
The jail questions inmates before scanning, as it does not screen everyone, including those in a wheelchair, who have a pacemaker or have recently received radiation or chemotherapy treatments.