Jail gets new weapons in war on contraband

Published 4:29 pm Friday, January 5, 2018

Deputies at the Carter County Detention Center now have some new tools in their battle to keep contraband out of the jail.

On December 1, 2017, the detention center began operating an approved and licensed Full Body Scanner. Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said the scanner will allow deputies to check everyone for drugs, weapons, cell phones, and other contraband before they enter the secure area of the facility.

“All correctional facilities constantly fight attempts by inmates, including inmate work crews, bringing drugs, weapons, and other contraband into their facility,” Lunceford said. “This is done by hiding these items on and in their bodies. The challenge in stopping this is that body cavity searches can only be accomplished with search warrants and medical personnel. We think we have obtained a solution.”

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Lunceford said his department was able to purchase the equipment without tapping into taxpayer monies by using funds generated for the county through the inmate telephone system. The Sheriff counts acquiring the full body scanner as a major accomplishment for his department and an important tool in combating contraband.

“It is our understanding we are the only correctional facility in the state, other than the Tennessee Department of Corrections, to obtain a scanner,” Lunceford said.

And, with the scanner having been in operation now for one month, Lunceford has only two words to describe its effectiveness: “It works.”

Lunceford said when officers bring an arrestee to the jail before bringing them into the secured area for booking the officers are telling them about the body scanner and those individuals are frequently turning over their contraband before they step inside the facility.

Some arrestees are still holding out and hoping to get their contraband by the scanner, but Lunceford said the scanner is finding the hidden items.

The full body scanner is similar to security equipment at many airports and works off of a very low-dose x-ray, which Lunceford said he was assured was not harmful.

“One thousand trips through this equals one x-ray at the doctor’s office,” Lunceford said.

And, unlike metal detectors which only pick up on the presence of metal, the full body scanner can pick up a wide variety of items.

“It works on density,” Lunceford explained. “It will pick up anything outside the range of the human body.”

While the detention center catches inmates attempting to smuggle drugs into the facility, Lunceford said his officers also search for tobacco, which while it is not an illegal substance to possess it is still classified as contraband as it poses its own risks for the facility.

“It’s dangerous to the staff and the inmates because it becomes a form of currency,” Lunceford explained.

Deputies in the jail went through a certification process to operate the equipment, and Lunceford said also received certification on the machine.

In addition to checking inmate work crews and new arrestees for contraband, Lunceford said his department also uses the full body scanner to conduct random checks on employees as well.

To supplement the full body scanner, Lunceford said he added a third K-9 unit to the department which has been assigned to work in the jail. The K-9 has been trained to detect drugs, weapons, and electronic devices.

“These two additions will make our jail as close to contraband free as possible and as safe as it can be for inmates and employees,” Lunceford said.

Under state law, it is a “Class C” felony to take into any penal institution any weapon, ammunition, explosives, intoxicants, legend drugs, or any controlled substances, or to be in possession of any of those items while inside a correctional facility. Those convicted of a Class C felony in Tennessee can face a prison sentence of 3-15 years. State law classifies the smuggling of a cell phone or other telecommunication device into a jail a “Class E” felony. Those convicted of a Class E felony can face a prison sentence of 1-6 years.

“If you bring these items into this facility you will get caught, and you will get charged,” Lunceford said.