jail drug sweep

A sweep at the Cowlitz County Jail found drugs, tattoo equipment and other contraband in one wing of the jail.

In efforts to combat the rise in concealed drugs among inmates, the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force conducted a Cowlitz County Jail “shakedown” that found meth, heroin and other contraband in a housing cell area last week.

The task force, in conjunction with four law enforcement agencies, on March 2 searched an area of the jail that housed 72 inmate beds for concealed drugs using three search dogs. It was the jail’s first shakedown of this scale, said Cowlitz County Corrections Department Director Marin Fox Hight.

Fox Hight estimated that since 2013, the jail has had a 41 percent increase of contraband found on inmates during booking and triple the contraband found in the general inmate population. Many inmates are bringing in drugs inside “body purses” — orifices — an increased problem that was uncommon 10 years ago, Fox Hight said.

“We’re looking at different methods and different ways to address it,” she said. “There’s some real negative impact to safety both for inmates and staff with the amount of contraband we’ve been experiencing.”

Contraband not only causes health and safety concerns for inmates and corrections officers, but it can also lead to more conflict among inmates, Fox Hight said. One staff member was poked by a needle during a previous shakedown, she said.

Under state law, corrections officers can only strip-search during booking when there’s probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Other less intrusive searches should be used first, such as pat downs or metal detectors. The jail installed a metal detector in December 2015.

The Corrections Department also plans to install a body scanner — similar to technology at airports — that would help detect contraband being concealed inside inmates’ bodies, Fox Hight said.

Officers found meth, heroin, marijuana, medication, tobacco, tattooing equipment and a broken broom handle during the search, according to the press release.

Two inmates, Richard Zwiefelhofer and James Ray Smith, were charged with felony drug possession. Fox Hight declined to say the amount of contraband found.

Officers from the Washington State Patrol, Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, state Department of Corrections and Longview Street Crimes Unit assisted the task force in the search.

Corrections officers regularly conduct shakedowns in the jail, but this is the first time the jail has used outside agencies to assist in the search, Fox Hight said.

Contact Daily News reporter Hayat Norimine at 360-577-7828

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