Westmoreland County warden wants X-ray machine to find drugs
Westmoreland County’s jail has a drug problem.
The warden told members of the county prison board Monday that a growing number of inmates are using drugs and tobacco, even though they are confined behind bars and, in theory, unable to get their hands on contraband.
“It’s becoming more prevalent,” Warden John Walton said. “We’re finding it more and more. It’s becoming an issue.”
Jail officials want to purchase a $200,000 X-ray scanner that would be used on all incoming inmates.
Prison board members said the county will look for grants that could pay for the machine.
“It’s a big price, but it’s cheaper than if there is any overdose,” said Sheriff Jon Held, who chairs the board.
Jail officials for months have been concerned about the growing number of inmates entering the Hempfield lockup with drug problems.
In September, 52 percent of incoming inmates needed detoxification treatment.
In October, that number dipped to 32 percent, but Walton could not explain the drop. Inmate detoxification had been rising steadily until last month, he said.
Inmates are testing positive for heroin, cocaine, methadone and Suboxone, according to the warden.
“The county has a drug problem,” Held said. “They are finding new methods to smuggle it into the prison. There is not much we can do.”
Officials identified drug use when inmates showed symptoms of being under the influence and subsequent blood tests confirmed those suspicions.
Last month, four inmates were tested and placed in disciplinary lockup after it was determined they used drugs in the jail, Walton said.
“We only find it occasionally. When we get tips, then we drug test. We don’t test everyone because we can’t,” Walton said.
The warden said inmates are smuggling drugs into the jail in body cavities, which are exempt from searches upon entering the facility.
A female inmate this year was found with 62 stamp bags of heroin she had smuggled into the jail. She was later prosecuted for drug possession.
“They know we can’t check up there,” Walton said.
The jail has a drug-sniffing dog, but the animal cannot be used to inspect inmates because the animal might bite them, according to the warden.
Walton said he did not know the name of the company or model of the scanner that he proposed purchasing.
Maintenance costs on the equipment were not immediately available, he told the board.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].