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Inmates at Pasco jail now face body scan for drugs, weapons

LAND O'LAKES — Inmates have tried smuggling in everything from cigarettes to pills, cell phones to switchblades. So as body scanners became prevalent in airports around the country, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office looked into getting one for the Land O'Lakes jail.

The RadPRO SecurPASS was installed on Monday. It looks like a white door frame with a light blue bar propped waist-high. The scanner emits a low-dose X-ray — a fraction of the radiation of a chest X-ray, but still enough to see what's tucked inside a pocket or body cavity.

"Each inmate that arrives in the booking section will go through the scanner," Sheriff Chris Nocco announced in a statement Thursday. "If the scanner detects possible contraband, deputies are authorized to conduct a strip search of that individual."

Still, the scanners should reduce the need for the intrusive, time-consuming strip searches, which typically take 15 minutes, the Sheriff's Office said. The body scan takes 7 seconds.

The Sheriff's Office used $195,000 in federal forfeiture funds to buy the scanner for the Land O'Lakes jail. It's the first detention center in Tampa Bay to have one, and the third in the state, behind the Federal Correction Complex in Coleman and the Collier County Jail.

The scanners used in detention centers are slightly different than the airport variety. The airport scanners only show items hidden under clothing, while the jail scanners show anything concealed inside a person's body as well. The Sheriff's Office noted its scanner protects inmates' privacy by not showing the person's anatomical outline or facial features.

Lt. Tom Perron suggested the purchase after seeing the scanner at the Coleman prison last year. Deputies have always faced the challenge of screening for smuggled weapons and drugs, but the prescription drug epidemic has magnified the problem. Some defendants who arrive for their day in court have drugs hidden in a body cavity, just in case their next stop is jail.

"Emergency medical services are often needed for an inmate due to a prescription drug overdose that originated from smuggling in prescription medications this way," the Sheriff's Office said.

Nocco's budget this year calls for adding eight medical staffers at the jail to deal with the crush of drug-addicted inmates.

The sheriff expects the scanner will significantly reduce the amount of contraband entering the jail. It may even serve as a deterrent: Knowing they will be scanned, people may be less likely to try to smuggle dangerous items into the jail.

Inmates can face additional charges for smuggling items into the jail, but more importantly, they often put their own health at risk, officials said.

A 27-year-old woman booked in March on drug and other charges admitted to deputies that she had hidden contraband in her body. A strip search retrieved three syringes, a spoon, a cotton swab, a piece of folded tin foil, and five clear bags.

Only one of the syringes had a cap.

Inmates at Pasco jail now face body scan for drugs, weapons 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 9:14pm]
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