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FIRST LOOK: catching contraband at the Pima County Jail

Posted at 9:19 PM, Nov 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-22 23:19:45-05

New body scanners are up and running at the Pima County Jail, in an effort to make the jail safer for both inmates and corrections officers. From now on, all inmates who enter and exit the jail facility will make a quick trip through these new scanners.

"It basically takes an x-ray type picture," Joshua Arnold, a captain with the Pima County Sheriff's Department said. "What it does is help us in our detection of contraband."

Contraband could include a variety of things, from narcotics to weapons, according to Arnold.

"Any type of drug, type of paraphernalia," he said. "We're talking about weapons, including knives, even guns, or shank type items."

The Pima County Jail is the first in the state to utilize this kind of technology, according to Sheriff Mark Napier. He believes this will seriously improve safety for everyone at the jail, corrections officers and inmates.

"This is really a quantum leap in our ability to detect that contraband coming in," Napier said. "Whether it's ingested, or simply concealed on their body."

The scan takes about seven seconds. While some may wonder about being exposed to radiation, Arnold explained people are only exposed to a quarter of the amount than one gets at a routine dental x-ray. Another comparison the PCSD captain made: eating two and a half bananas.

"It offers really no downside," he said. "There's only upside to having this type of instrument."

As a corrections officer conducts the exam, they get a detailed, real-time look at the person's body. At that point, they'll note any irregularities. For example, a bag of drugs inside someone's body.

"Especially if it's swallowed or hidden inside a body orifice," Arnold said. "Before this machine, we had very little way in detecting that kind of contraband."

Both Napier and Arnold believe this new method is an efficient and less invasive search procedure that many jails across the state will soon try to implement.