New scanner to limit contact at Audrain County Jail

New scanner to limit contact at Audrain County Jail
Dave Faries

Less than a week after the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office had a full body scanning device installed at the jail, guards identified something unusual on a man entering the facility.

He was hiding a container of methamphetamine.

But Sheriff Matt Oller explains that the scanner, which went into service toward the end of January, is not intended to catch inmates or visitors red handed.

“We wanted a way to limit the amount of physical contact,” Oller said.

When inmates leave the jail for reasons such as medical appointments, they are searched by hand upon return and strip searched, if necessary. For some time Oller has been focused on mitigating the spread of illness in the confined facility — an effort that ramped up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Correctional facilities in the state are starting to put scanners in place. Oller heard of one installed at the jail in Cole County and took a team to inspect it. He began looking ways to fund the project and approached the County Commissioners about CARES Act money.

In the first phases of the CARES rollout, the county concentrated on funneling funds to first responders and small businesses. They turned the sheriff’s request down.

“I agreed with them,” Oller said. “Small businesses were getting clobbered.”

In phase four, the commissioners returned to the matter and approved funding for the $168,000 device.

The scanner is not medical grade. The dose of radiation is low enough that, based upon height and weight, a person can be scanned up to 100 times a year without harm, according to the sheriff.

Oller anticipates that the scanner will cut down on the need to strip search. But, he adds, there are side benefits.

“If we see something perfectly round or perfectly square, we know it doesn’t belong there,” Oller noted.

Guards have identified some small items of contraband. Often incoming people say they forget the item was in their pocket.

“You don’t forget you have a quarter ounce of meth,” Oller said.

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