PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Palm Beach County Jail inmates soon will be treated like airplane passengers: They'll be run through a body scanner.
The Sheriff's Office says its $185,000 body scanner, which should be installed this month, will help deputies perform body searches and find contraband more easily.
The sheriff's office says the money used to purchase the scanner was from alternate funding methods available and not from the general fund which is from taxpayers. It will be the second jail in the state with a body scanner, after Collier County. The Broward Sheriff's Office may buy one too, officials said.
In Palm Beach County, up to 300 inmates a day are strip searched to find contraband, from gum or sugar to drugs or weapons, Capt. Alan Fuhrman said.
But strip searches see only the surface of the body, officials explained. If deputies suspect an inmate has something hidden inside his or her body, they need a court order for a body-cavity search, which then is done by a doctor.
Now, following the strip search, inmates would dress and pass through the scanner. If the scanner identifies a foreign object, a court order still would be required to retrieve it, authorities said.
Unlike airport scanners, the jail's Canon SecurPASS scanner will show only the skeleton and any foreign objects. It's like an X-ray, and doesn't reveal skin or surface organs.
A scan takes eight seconds and produces only about as much radiation as standing in the sun for an hour, officials said.
Airport scanners have been controversial because they showed skin and more body detail. On Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration announced airports will begin using new scanning software that does away with naked images and instead shows generic outlines.
Deputies say the scanners will make their job easier.
"My No. 1 reason is security in these facilities," said Broward Sheriff's Lt. Col. Kim Spadaro. "If they are hiding something under their clothing layers or rolls of fat, these body scanners can see right through that."
The scanner had an almost immediate impact in Collier County, where it was installed in February.
"It has been a great deterrent," Collier County Sheriff's spokeswoman Michelle Batten said. "Inmates have seen the scanner and either given up contraband prior to being scanned or dropped contraband on the floor."