Cowlitz County Jail
Shari Phiel

A week from today, the Cowlitz County Jail will become the first correctional facility in Washington to use a body-scanner to prevent new inmates from smuggling drugs and other contraband into the jail.

“With any jail, there’s always been that struggle to keep out contraband. It’s always been a battle, and this new equipment helps us contend with those who attempt to smuggle in items that are not allowed in the jail,” Capt. Chris Moses with the county corrections department said by email Tuesday. "Inmates are creative and go through great lengths to get contraband into the facility. We want to ensure our staff and inmates are safe.”

The Conpass DV (Dual-View) full body scanner takes seven seconds to scan an inmate. All new arrestees will be scanned before joining the rest of the inmates, with a few exceptions, Moses said.

Traditional searches cannot locate contraband hidden inside an inmate’s body, and drug users have been known to swallow drugs or hide them in body cavities.

“The scanner is not foolproof. However, it ensures our officers have a more effective tool,” Moses said. “The scanner is much less intrusive than a strip search and more efficient. A strip search can take up to 10 to 15 minutes, whereas the scan is completed in seven seconds. The scan can identify anything concealed under clothing or inside a person’s body cavity."

“Items hidden in a body cavity will be missed through a traditional pat down or strip search,” he said.

Body scanners have been deployed in many jails throughout the country, Moses said. Jail staff members consulted the county attorney and discussed the purchase with advocacy groups before buying the machine, he said. “Just our vendor alone has deployed over 120 body scanners in the United States and over 500 worldwide.”

The scanner cost about $237,000. It will not require additional staff to operate.

The scanner generates two separate images of the individual being screened. One displays the full body head to toe view; the other focuses on the torso. Moses said the exposure to radiation is 400 times lower than in a typical medical chest x-ray.

“At this setting, individuals can be screened 1,000 times every year, Moses said. “This makes the scanner safe for inmates and staff alike.”

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