Prison looks for grant funds for body scanner
McELHATTAN — Clinton County prison employees have a problem.
Detainees have been smuggling drugs and other contraband into the prison by inserting them into their body cavities.
In an effort to stop illicit drug use and invasive strip searches and keep detainees safe, the county prison board will pursue grant and other funding for a body scanner to intercept smuggled contraband.
“We know (the contraband is) getting by us,” said Warden John Rowley. “It’s become a real problem.”
Random toxicology screens on some detainees have yielded traces of illicit drugs in their systems, he confirmed.
But when county commissioners spoke to representatives from the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool (PCoRP) about obtaining funding for the scanner, they learned there might be issues with liability, they said.
PCoRP provides property, liability, automobile and other related insurance coverages, loss control, claims services and training to Pennsylvania counties and their related entities.
Prison board chairman and Commissioner Paul Conklin explained that the body scanner could expose the prison to liability because the scan could be considered invasive (it shows the outline of all organs) and a picture of the person’s body could be saved and circulated by employees. He also said that scanning non-detainees like prison employees or civilians who show up for fingerprinting services could pose a liability issue.
Rowley said he would never utilize the body scanner on a non-detainee unless there was credible information the person was hiding something.
“There has to be probable cause,” he said.
He also said strip-searching is far more invasive than a body scanner because it involves having the detainee remove some or all of their clothing and possibly involves having a correctional officer probe body cavities for contraband. This county prison does not allow the probing of body cavities in strip searches.
As for keeping pictures of a person’s body, Rowley said the prison would only do that in the case of someone who clearly had contraband in their body. That picture would be kept only as evidence and would be prohibited from circulating.
“It is not our intention to (keep and circulate pictures),” he said.
But the warden said he understood PCoRP’s concerns about liability.
He said he would provide a video for PCoRP to view how the body scanner would work and write a letter to allay concerns of liability.
To fund the body scanner, Rowley said the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) administered by the federal Department of Justice could be a possible source. The prison would have to submit a grant application by Feb. 19, but the money would not be available until October.
Prison board vice chairman and Commissioner Pete Smeltz said he liked the idea of funding the body scanner through grants.
“We are interested in minimizing the impact on (the county) general fund budget,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t get more grants.”
Rowley talked about how the drug smuggling problem relates to the larger mental health challenges the prison faces. He said many of the detainees struggle with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. This fact has led him to consider specific programming to help detainees deal with mental health problems.
The warden wants to be able to guarantee a zero-substance facility so that “we can create an environment where these people can be detoxed,” he said.
He also wants to stop violent conflicts that can arise over the presence of drugs in a correctional facility.
“It’s frustrating when we have done so much to stop the interdiction of drugs… and then to have them come through body cavities,” he said.
Conklin added that it would be hard to explain an overdose at the prison to the public.
Prison board member and sheriff Kerry Stover said a body scanner would be a valuable tool to stop a “bad batch” of drugs from coming into the prison and potentially causing hospitalizations or fatalities. Prison board member Judge Michael Salisbury agreed, and moved to pursue grant funding for the scanner.
In other news, the prison board approved three new purchases for the prison:
r Nine flatscreen television units for $8,700, using the prison commissary fund. These televisions will be used to project information for detainees like the time, weather, advisories and announcements and information for visitors.
r New, stainless steel tables and chairs for several prison housing units for $39,000, using the prison commissary fund. The old furniture is made of wood and the new furniture will supposedly last more than 50 years.
r A separate entrance in the Central Processing Unit for $3,592. This will be used for non-committed citizens seeking fingerprinting services from the prison, using CPU funding.
The prison board also approved a request at the discretion of county commissioners to replace correctional officers’ desks and add computers in several housing units. The request comes after an officer was video recorded leaning against a desk and falling because it broke.
“We need to purchase these,” Rowley said.
Both Conklin and Smeltz said they would figure out whether the funding could come out of the prison budget or the county’s capital fund budget, which is currently under its projected expenses.
Conklin said he would like the capital fund to be able to stay under budget.
Also Wednesday, Rowley brought up concerns about not having enough maintenance workers. At one point there were three workers, but now there are only two.
Rowley said he would like to hire a third maintenance worker to order and manage supplies part time and do less skilled but necessary maintenance work part time. He thinks it will ease the burden on the two current workers.
Conklin and Smeltz said there is a county maintenance worker currently working on the County Piper Building renovations who could be moved to the prison once those finish in late 2018. But in the interim, they said, they don’t have any quick fixes and will meet with the other maintenance workers. Conklin said he liked the idea of hiring a temporary part-time maintenance worker until commissioners could come up with a permanent solution.
The memorandum of understanding regarding health care costs incurred by arrested people that has been causing contention between the prison and municipal law enforcement agencies is on its way to a resolution.
Prison board solicitor Rocco Rosamilia said they are moving toward an agreement that places the cost of health care on the person being arrested, instead of the arresting officer’s municipality. He said they will try to solidify this agreement at the next county Criminal Justice Advisory Board meeting.
Renovations at the prison are wrapping up. Rowley said they are in the last two stages of renovations, which include the conversion of the prison’s analog camera system to digital and the implementation of a touchscreen system. He said he hopes to give a tour of the newly renovated facility soon.
“We want to wrap the project up,” Smeltz said. “Our energy is shifting to the Piper Building.”
For the scale of the renovations, Rowley said, “it’s gone relatively well.”
Also at the meeting, the warden presented certificates to two correctional officers, Zachary Maffett and Patrick Weaver, for their outstanding efforts in the performance of their duties at the Clinton County Correctional Facility.