CLARION – With contraband smuggling a growing concern at the Clarion County Jail, officials once again last week discussed the possibility of incorporating an X-ray body scanning machine at the Paint Township facility.

Picking up from last month’s initial discussion, prison board members kicked off their May 10 meeting with an informational video from Nuctech U.S. Inc. — a Beijing, China-based security and inspection solution supply company — regarding a body scanning machine.

Utilizing the latest dose of nominal X-ray transmission imaging technology in each 10-second scan, according to the video, the body scanning machine can easily detect the presence of drugs, weapons, explosives and other contraband items hidden inside the human body, as well as in artificial limbs, beneath clothes and in shoes.

In addition, the machine is accessible from both sides and can be operated remotely for safety, the video states. It can also keep track of a person’s individual and accumulated X-ray dose over a certain period of time to avoid over-exposure — 400 scans equals the equivalent of a medical chest X-ray.

“It’s a very nice system,” Jail Warden Jeff Hornberger told the prison board last week, explaining that he and deputy warden Dave Sprankle recently visited a similar machine at the Indiana County Jail, where officials have already caught several people attempting to smuggle contraband into the facility. “We watched it in live action...scanning some inmates.”

According to Hornberger, Clarion County’s interest in possibly purchasing its own machine stems from a recent surge in the number of inmates who have been caught attempting to smuggle contraband into the jail — two of which occurred within a 72-hour period in February, requiring trips to the emergency room for CAT scans and X-rays.

“One was found to be an illegal drug and one was a tobacco product,” he said, noting that while contraband has been an ongoing issue for most jails for several years, he has recently seen an uptick in the number of illegal substance smuggling cases. “Once you get that introduced in the facility, it spreads to everybody.”

However, Sprankle added that he hoped the body scanning machine would serve as a visual deterrent for contraband smuggling.

“The nice thing about the machine is they don’t know when we’re scanning,” he said, explaining that just because an individual takes a short ride across the machine’s conveyer belt doesn’t mean a scan takes place. “We don’t have to scan them every time.”

Another bonus with the body scanning machine is that it can potentially be used by other county agencies such as probation, the district attorney’s office and CNET detectives with some of their own cases, Hornberger noted.

While discussing the cost associated with such a machine, Hornberger said grant money through the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) could cover a “substantial amount” of the estimated $95,000 to $105,000 complete system price tag — which includes the machine, electronic equipment, two monitors and training. The jail’s commissary or phone accounts could be used to pay the remaining balance.

Although money is always an issue, the prison board agreed that the jail’s biggest concern is whether or not the large machine will be able to fit into the already tight quarters of the local jail.

“I think it would be a great asset for the jail, law enforcement and probation, but we’re running out of room at the jail,” District Attorney and prison board vice chairman Mark Aaron said. He suggested that it may be time for the board to consider adding a small addition onto the jail to house all of its necessary machinery — including the fingerprint machine — as well as much needed additional classification cells. “It’s definitely something worth considering.”

Commissioner Ed Heasley agreed, stating that he also believes the body scanning machine is a “great system,” and urged the board to not only find a spot for it at the jail, but to check with CCAP about different funding availabilities.

With support around the table, the prison board ended the discussion by asking Hornberger to research different grant opportunities for the next meeting.

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