Centre County commissioners move forward with an initiative to improve jail safety

Following a series of illnesses throughout Pennsylvania state prisons last year, Centre County Correctional Facility could soon implement a full body scanner that officials say would be used to keep staff, visitors and inmates safe.

In order to enhance the safety and security of the Centre County Correctional Facility, the Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with the agreement to purchase a full body scanner to next week’s consent agenda.

“We believe this machine will enhance our security at the facility and assist us in (the) detection of contraband, more specifically illicit drugs, entering the facility,” said Glenn Irwin, deputy warden of administration, during his presentation at the board of commissioners meeting.

Irwin mentioned a series of incidents throughout the state over the past year where contraband items were taken into the facility, resulting in the injury and illness of staff and inmates.

“It helps us prevent a person, who may have an addiction (and) who may be coping with it very well, but if subject ‘B’ brings in something, that may fuel that person’s want for the product,” Irwin said.

The machine will only be used on inmates, but Irwin said its function will ensure the safety of all correctional facility visitors. Chairman Michael Pipe said procuring this machine is necessary in order to ensure an “absolutely safe facility.”

The machine will be purchased from Nuctech. During his presentation, Glenn said Nuctech has 14 machines operating in Pennsylvania. During visits to other facilities, Irwin said there were no complaints or issues with the machine.

The total cost of the machine is $95,000. With warranties, the price adds to $113,000, and Irwin said the facility is planning for DEP fees but estimates they will not exceed $1,000.

The machine will be inspected by Harrisburg’s Department of Environmental Protection following its installation. A certified inspector from Centre County will also participate in the radiation training with correctional facility staff.

Only staff members who receive proper instruction from the manufacturer will be permitted to operate the machine. Initial training takes eight hours, but additional instruction is required for radiation safety officers.

“Nobody can do anything nefarious with any of the scans,” Irwin said. “It’s all limited. We also have the ability to tell who operated the machine on a certain day. We can tell which inmate was X-rayed, and it tracks the number of times each inmate was X-rayed.”

After installation, the facility warden and deputies will be the only authorized individuals to serve as administrators of the machine to ensure the privacy of inmates. Once an inmate is scanned, Irwin said the images are automatically deleted after a specific number of days unless saved by an administrator.

Commissioner Mark Higgins asked what radiation level inmates would be exposed to while being scanned.

“If you would take 400 scans through this machine, that would equal one X-ray in a hospital,” Irwin said.

Nuctech sets a standard limit for how often and how many times an inmate is scanned in order to ensure they are protected from radiation. Irwin said once an inmate reaches the limit, the officer will receive an alert that says the inmate has reached the maximum number of scans.

Irwin said he does not anticipate an inmate reaching the maximum amount, but if the situation does occur, the facility will use other methods to search inmates.

“This definitely sounds like it will increase safety for inmates, staff and visitors at the Centre County Correctional Facility,” Higgins said, before the motion was approved.

Commissioners voted unanimously to move the contract to next week’s consent agenda.

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.