The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Local News

June 24, 2010

Correctional facility uses donated airport scanners to detect drugs

ANDERSON – The Pendleton Correctional Facility has found a new way to sniff out illegal contraband: with donated machines worth millions of dollars.

“You didn’t see the lines of dogs out front with picket signs?” jokingly asked Mike Rains, chief Internal Affairs officer for the Pendleton facility.

Since the Pendleton facility became the first Indiana prison to use Sentinel II Ionscan Contraband Detection Portals — commonly seen in airports — in February, it has had only one incident of intended drug-smuggling.

“We’ve had people come in, see the machine running, and they turn around and leave,” Rains said.

Like a few other prisons in the nation, Pendleton Correctional Facility had tried the machines a few years ago and wanted them since. But the price tag was too high, at nearly $140,000 per machine.

Rains said an officer going on vacation came up with the idea to obtain the machines for free. He said a Transportation Security Administration agent informed the vacationer that the machines were being phased out of airports for newer equipment. After some phone calls, TSA donated seven machines, worth nearly $1 million, to the Indiana Department of Corrections.

“In my opinion, it’s a very good application for the machine; they have been in prison in other countries and been very effective,” said Rick Keosian, products specialist with manufacturer Smiths Detection, who had been working with the facility.

The machines were used in the airports to detect explosives, but the one at the prison has been reprogrammed to detect narcotics, according to Rains. The other six machines are in the process of being reprogrammed, and the IDOC hopes to have them in prisons around the state by July, Rains said.

“What we want it to do is cut down on our incidents of trafficking,” Rains said.

In addition to the normal patdowns and shoe X-rays, the machines analyze microscopic particles from a visitor’s clothes and skin.

The visitor enters the machine, which takes three pictures during the process for evidence — if necessary. It shoots 32 quick jets of air at the person standing inside, sucking back particles that are then analyzed for illegal substances.

“That’s remarkable,” said visitor Janice Talley, after passing through the machine. “I’m surprised that Anderson, a small town, would have something like this.”

If a visitor fails the inspection, an alarm sounds and he or she is retested. After a second bell, the visitor is interviewed, Rains said, to give the person an opportunity to own up to being around drugs.

According to facility spokesman Neil Potter, the Pendleton prison arrested 10 people in 2009 for attempting to smuggle drugs into the facility. The one woman caught since the machine went operational happened the same week.

“They’re not costing us any money, other than for electricity,” Rains said. “If we get a substance individual to our area, we can reprogram it for that; it takes about an hour.”

As for the narcotics-detecting dogs that used to be alarm personnel of potential smugglers, they’re not completely out of work, Rains said.

“We’re going to use them inside,” he said, “for cell searches and things like that.”

Contact Christina M. Wright, 640-4883, christina.wright@heraldbulletin.com.

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