Stating that safety and security are the biggest challenges facing facilities like the one in his charge, Sheriff Donnie Barrera has proposed to county commissioners that a high-tech body scanner be installed at the Highland County Jail.
He said that those who smuggle contraband, mainly drugs, into the facility have become so creative and ingenious in their methods that many jurisdictions are embracing next generation scanners that reveal more of what’s trying to be concealed with minimal radiation exposure.
Commissioner Gary Abernathy, who witnessed a demonstration of the device at the jail on Oct. 15, said he “was a huge fan of the body scanner being considered by the sheriff.”
“It was very impressive how it could detect hidden balloons where drugs could be concealed,” he said. “Most of the scanners are good at detecting shiny objects, but this one was really excellent at detecting contraband.”
He said that the proposed scanner installation would be a benefit to all law enforcement, since in his view anyone being booked into the jail would be subjected to another layer of protection and security.
The scanner could also be a deterrent, he said, and would make people “think twice about trying to bring anything in that they shouldn’t.”
Aramark Food, Facility and Uniform Services representative Mike Colvin told commissioners their meeting this week that his company operates at 28 correctional facilities for food, laundry and other services in southern Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and has been providing food services to the Highland County Jail since the facility opened in 2001.
He said as part of the ongoing partnership with the county, Aramark has put forth a three-, five- or 10-year contract proposal designed to finance the purchase of a scanner for the county.
“We have some long-standing relationships and deep understanding of the correctional environment,” Colvin said. “These are difficult places to work and our main intention is to enhance the safety of both Aramark staff and county employees against what is trying to be smuggled into the jail facility.”
On any given day, Colvin said, there are many people going in and out of the jail and with the current opioid problem “the related crimes that come behind those things are a concern for not only Barrera’s team, but mine as well, and body scanners help prevent things like that from coming into the jail.”
The scanner under consideration by the commissioners is the SOTER RS full body security scanning system from OD Security/North America, which is designed to detect metal, plastic, organic and inorganic contraband that may be concealed outside or inside the body.
According to information from the OD Security website, the entire scanning process takes between eight to 10 seconds, with no radiation exposure to the jail operator and minimal exposure to the inmate being booked.
Both Abernathy and Barrera pointed out that the radiation footprint of the proposed scanner was so low that company representatives told them “there was more radiation in an ordinary banana than there is in this machine.”
“I’ve never heard anything bad from any other agency that has it,” Barrera said. “I’m good friends with the sheriff in Morrow County and he’s real pleased with the system, as is Sheriff Leahy in Clermont County. Everybody I’ve spoken with seems to be real happy with it.”
The technology isn’t cheap, he said, with the scanner in question costing upward of $120,000, but Aramark’s proposal has the financing coming as part of what the company charges per meal for inmates.
Abernathy said the average price per meal was $2.60, but after Barrera took office in 2015 that amount was reduced significantly to the current price of $1.83 per meal, due to negotiations between the sheriff’s office and Aramark.
If the county finances the total cost of the body scanner, Aramark is offering three options.
Under a three-year agreement, the meal price would rise to $2.42.
If commissioners agreed to a five-year contract, the price would be about $2.20 per meal, while under a 10-year agreement, inmate’s meal prices would be $2 per meal.
Abernathy endorsed the scanner proposal and indicated he personally would like to see a decision made on acquiring the equipment before year’s end.
If commissioners sign off on any of the three Aramark contracts, Barrera said the unit could be installed and in operation at the jail in 45 days.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.