Massachusetts law enforcement officials are sharing some of the ways inmates sneak contraband into prisons, and the measures being taken to prevent this from happening.
Essex County House of Correction is one of the few agencies in Massachusetts that has an X-ray body scanner, that all inmates must go through when they get to the jail.
“You can see the outline of the uniform and the fillings in his teeth,” said Essex County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ed Melanson.
The X-ray scans an inmate’s entire body in seven seconds, and sees everything inside it– right down to medical implants.
Inmates keep their clothes and shoes on, and stand on an automated platform that moves them through the scanner. Behind the glass enclosure, a corrections officer checks the image on a computer screen, looking for anything out of the ordinary, especially weapons.
One X-ray revealed an inmate had swallowed a razor blade in an attempt to smuggle it into jail.
“They can hide things in shoes, anything that looks out of place there too,” said Melanson.
Corrections officers are also on alert to make sure that what happened at an upstate New York prison doesn’t happen here.
For more than two weeks, police have been on an all-out man hunt for escaped killers David Sweat and Richard Matt, who officials say, used power tools to break out of prison.
To prevent inmates in Essex County from getting their hands on tools like this, employees, contract workers and visitors also go through strict security. There are no exceptions.
“Everyone goes through,” said Melanson. “I’ve been here 23 years. I have to go through. It’s for the safety and security of everyone here.”
But even with the body scanner and other security checks, fights still break out in jail, and inmates find ways to arm themselves. All of the knives, or “shanks,” on a weapons board inside the prison, were made by an inmate in the institution.
“They think outside the box to come up with anything that’s sharp and can be turned into a weapon,” said Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins.
On the prison’s weapons board is a piece of floor tile that was broken off and sharpened, and a nail that was loosened from a piece of furniture.
“It can be anything,” said Cousins. “A ringer on a mop bucket, old ringers to make shanks. Any bits of metal, people can turn it into something.”
Inmates found with contraband face loss of privileges in the prison and criminal charges that could add more time to their sentence.