Friday, July 28th, 2017
Sheriff wants body scanner
Grey tells commissioners technology needed in drug fight
By William Kincaid
CELINA - As more drugs are entering the Mercer County jail, now is the time to consider following the suit of other state correctional facilities by acquiring a body scanner, sheriff Jeff Grey told county commissioners on Thursday afternoon.
However, body scanners are expensive and won't completely stanch the flow of illicit substances into the jail due to the ingenuity of crafty criminals, Grey said.
"We're making it harder, and I think we'll catch more of what could go in, but most of those people in jail aren't dumb. If they'd put their energy into doing legal things, they'd be millionaires," Grey said.
Yet a jail body scanner, similar to low-level radiation units used to scan airline passengers, would certainly help personnel root out drugs and may deter inmates from trying to bring them in, he believes.
Commissioners, though, were initially reluctant to comment on Grey's recommendation that could cost around $120,000. Eventually during the hourlong session with Grey and chief corrections officer Jodie Lange, Rick Muhlenkamp said he would support a body scanner, and Jerry Laffin said he too was leaning in that direction. Commissioner Greg Homan, who voiced exasperation at the county's heroin problem, said he needs more time to think about it.
They will reconvene with Grey next month.
Between March 7, 2015, and April 5, 2017, drugs were detected in the jail 24 times, Grey said. But the actual rate could be higher as drugs may have been taken by the inmates before deputies could reach them.
"Typically we file charges when we can," Grey said. "But the drugs are coming in."
Drugs can make their way into the jail when people are booked or when inmates return from a work-release program or medical furlough.
Grey recalled instances in which an inmate concealed in his rectum a syringe fully loaded with heroin and a woman arrested who had hidden 56 drug capsules in her vagina.
"Now if they don't tell us and those capsules break in there, she's dead," he said.
He also pointed to incidents in other state jails in which an inmate fatally overdosed. Grey said such an incident would likely trigger a lawsuit. In another jail, seven inmates overdosed at the same time.
"If we happen to have seven inmates overdose in the jail at the same time, we would overrun Mercer Health, and we'd overrun our ambulance services trying to get there," he said.
Jails in Wood, Licking and Monroe counties have body scanners, as does the Tri-County jail, according to Grey and Lange. Officials in Greene, Shelby and Mahoning counties are getting them.
The least expensive body scanner on state contract costs $118,000 with an annual software maintenance fee of $8,750 after the expiration of the two-year warranty. They have a lifespan of 10 to 12 years, he said.
The machine could also be acquired on a seven-year lease, which includes the annual software maintenance fee and an option to purchase for $1 at the contract's end. Commissioners would either pay $2,120 a month for 84 months or $1,600 for the first 24 months and $2,330 the last 60 months, Grey said.
A potential funding source is the county's 15-year 0.5-percent sales tax enacted in 2008 to pay for the new jail and additional operations, Grey said. Laffin said the tax generated $2.7 million in 2016 and $2.5 million in 2015.
Grey acknowledges his proposal is a tough sell.
"There's going to be people out there that say, 'why would you spend the money to do something like that? They shouldn't be doing the drugs,' " Grey said. "I look at it and go, 'my first priority is to save peoples' lives when we can and not to be judgmental of them when we're saving their lives.' "
Grey said ambulances are dispatched to save drunken drivers injured in accidents.
Also, deputies carry the overdose reversal drug Narcan to administer in emergency situations.
"I don't think that we can just stand there and watch somebody die if we have the ability to save them," he said.
Homan said it's frustrating to have to continue spending taxpayer dollars on drug-related expenses.
"It's frustrating that it takes money away that you want to invest in youth programs or community development and those kinds of things," he said.
Muhlenkamp, though, said people suffering from drug addiction are someone's children or grandchildren.
"I guess it's not for us to play the position of God with these people, (and we should) try to do everything to help protect lives." Muhlenkamp said.
Laffin noted there would be concern if somebody overdosed in the jail.
"I really believe that (heroin users) can't control it," Grey said, adding that he doesn't go so far as to buy into the idea that drug use is a disease but noted everyone, including the person who takes heroin for the first time, makes mistakes.
Homan said part of him wonders if society is extending the status of victimhood to users, diminishing personal accountability. He said needles have been found three times in the streets of his Coldwater neighborhood.
"My first inclination isn't to pitying the victim. It's anger," he said.