Greene Co. Jail buys scanner to combat drug smuggling

Workers install a new body scanner in the Greene County jail that is intended to help curb the flow of illegal drugs into the jail and stem a spike in inmate overdoses.
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Workers install a new body scanner in the Greene County jail that is intended to help curb the flow of illegal drugs into the jail and stem a spike in inmate overdoses.

In midst of heroin epidemic, county jail adapts

On Wednesday, the Greene County Jail became the first in the Miami Valley to acquire a body scanner, which will be used to detect drugs and contraband that incoming inmates might have hidden in bodily crevices.

The scanner can spot anything from small baggies to needles. It is non-invasive; it scans for hidden objects and does not show body parts, according to Major Kirk Keller of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. Keller runs the county jail, and says that he has been asking for a scanner for the past two to three years in order to combat the local drug epidemic.

“Within the last two to three years I was seeing an increase in the contraband, especially drugs that were being brought into our facility,” Keller said. “I’d say [now] we’re seeing overdoses every week and probably multiples every month, where three to five years ago, that was not the case. It used to be rare to have an overdose in the jail.”

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Greene County bought their scanner on a state bid, costing just shy of $119,000. Meanwhile, Fayette County recently bought a scanner for $240,000 and Hamilton County spent $200,000 on a scanner in 2012.

Greene County’s scanner is positioned in a room adjacent to the jail’s sally port, or garage, just outside of the facility’s secured perimeter. This means that inmates will be ‘scanned at the door,’ to further prevent contraband from entering the facility.

While the jail’s staff is still working through the policy creation and training required to operate the new technology, Keller believes that the mere news of the jail’s addition has already scared drugs away.

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“From the first day that the scanner was here, and the first story hit the media, we actually had an individual — and I don’t know if it was based on that story — but he came in and voluntarily gave up the drugs that were in a body cavity. And it was heroin,” Keller said. “I’m going to attribute that to the fact that they know we have it, and that’s all we want.”

Heroin has hit Greene County increasingly hard in recent months. Two weeks ago three inmates in the Greene County Jail simultaneously overdosed from the drug.

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"I had three [emergency care] squads lined up in front of the facility," Keller said. Not only were the overdose victims in the same facility (there are two in Greene County), but they were also in the same 'pod,' consisting of 60 inmates.

In Keller’s 26 years at Greene County, he has only lost one inmate. That happened on February 28, when 32-year old Jeremy Withers ingested drugs during a traffic stop. Just hours after being booked in the county jail, the ingested bag opened and Withers died from an overdose.

The incident took an emotional toll on Keller and his staff.

“I think the fact that we lost an inmate did have an emotional impact, because of the standard of care that we set for ourselves,” Keller said. “Had we had [scanners], we probably wouldn’t have lost that inmate. We would have been able to see that he had ingested drugs.”

At the Greene County Jail, inmates are inspected every 20 minutes. This is three times the amount required by the state, which enforces hourly checks.

“If that was not our standard, I would have lost more inmates to drug overdoses,” Keller said.

While Greene County Jail is the first in the Miami Valley to utilize a body scanner, several neighboring counties are in line to acquire scanners in the near future.

The Montgomery County Jail “hopes to have one within the next few months,” says Major Matt Haines, the Division Commander for Jail and Court Security with the Montgomery County Jail. Haines believes that the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners will approve the potential budget for a scanner, which will be presented to the board on Tuesday.

The Miami County Jail has already been approved by its county commission to purchase a scanner, and they also “want to get it done by the end of the summer,” Steve Lord, chief deputy for the Miami County Sheriff’s Office, said. Lord believes that the county should have one functioning “within the next few months.”

Warren County’s timetable, however, might look different. County jail administrator Brett Richardson says that aside from funding issues, the county is also holding out on looking into getting a scanner because they will not be able to house one until their new jail is built. Richardson currently does not know when the new jail will be built.