Marquette County Jail first in U.P. to implement full body X-ray security system

Lt. Brian Steede of the Marquette County Jail demonstrates the use of the jail’s new X-ray full body scanner. The scanner produces X-ray images, such as the one pictured on the device’s screen, which allows corrections officers to screen incoming inmates for contraband that may be hidden in their body. The device aims to improve safety of both inmates and corrections staff, officials said, as it can help prevent controlled substances and weapons from entering the jail. The Marquette County Jail is the first jail in the Upper Peninsula and the second jail in the state to adopt the technology. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Jail is the Upper Peninsula’s first jail to have a full-body scanning security system. Use of the Soter RS X-ray body scanner, made by OD Security North America, began at the jail on Monday.

“We’re proud to announce that we’re starting the implementation of the Soter body scanner. This is only the second in Michigan,” Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said.

The X-ray scanner was needed, Zyburt said, as contraband — such as controlled substances — has been brought into the jail by inmates in recent months, which posed a health and safety issue for inmates and corrections staff.

“The main purpose for this device is safety,” he said. “It’s safety for the correctional officers and it’s safety for the inmates.”

The low-dose X-ray scanner, which is housed in the jail’s sally port, is used to scan each incoming inmate and generates an image for staff to review so they can ensure the person is not bringing hidden contraband into the jail with them.

“Before they even come into the facility, corrections officers will scan them and then look at the image. And it’s basically an X-ray of the body and (they) look for anything unusual,” Zyburt said.

Prior to implementation of the scanner, the department would screen incoming inmates for contraband through pat downs and use of a drug dog. Now, these procedures will be used in conjunction with the scanner.

“We will still pat down, we still have a drug dog that will sniff; no one thing is 100%, but this is bringing the odds up,” he said.

If the scanner shows a person is found to be concealing contraband, they can be charged with a five-year felony, Zyburt said.

“We’re telling these people when they come in: ‘If you have something, tell us now, because we’ll charge you with a misdemeanor,'” Zyburt said. “If you go through and we find it, then it’s a five-year felony, it’s prison. So we’re trying to get the word out to everyone that we have this device now. And if you got something on your body, in your body, give it to us at the beginning and it’ll save you a lot of time in jail or prison.”

Corrections staff has been undergoing extensive training with support from the manufacturer to help them to be able to read and interpret the images provided by the scanner, Zyburt said.

The X-ray scanning system will be used with a portable tablet display, Zyburt said, which will allow officials to closely examine the X-ray image produced by the scanner and determine if there is any contraband people may be concealing in their bodies.

This is important, he said, as a cavity search can only be performed once a search warrant is obtained, and only by medical personnel, not corrections officers.

“I’ll be able to take that into the prosecutor, into a magistrate, and if we have something, a picture, I can take that instead of printing off a picture and then you lose all the detail, whereas this tablet will show it; you can expand it, you can look and say ‘This is what I see here. Do I have enough probable cause to get a search warrant?’ And then from there, we would take them to the hospital and have a doctor remove it,” Zyburt previously told the Marquette County Board of Commissioners.

Zyburt and staff performed extensive research on the available scanning systems and talked to many other sheriffs around the nation about the equipment. The Soter system, Zyburt said, was found to be the lowest in price and the highest quality based on the department’s research and the comments of other sheriffs around the nation.

“This by far was the best one,” Zyburt said.

The purchase of the scanner for $134,000 was unanimously approved by the county board in December, with the majority of funds coming from the sheriff’s department’s capital improvement fund. Commissioners supported it, Zyburt said, as the new equipment reduces the county’s liability by minimizing the risk of contraband entering the jail and harming inmates and/or corrections staff.

“I went to the county commission and I said ‘We can pay now or we can pay later; and this is being proactive.’ And they were great enough to support us and believe in it,” Zyburt said.

While the new system is one of only two in the state at a jail, Zyburt expects the technology to be adopted by more agencies in the future.

“I think this will go throughout the state, if not throughout the nation,” he said. “And in fact, our insurance carrier, our risk manager said ‘We believe in this so much, you’re going to save liability,’ and they donated a $15,000 grant to help pay for this; so I can really see it going nationwide.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.