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Westmoreland jail's long-awaited full-body scanner nears reality

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 5:21 p.m.
The entrance to the Westmoreland County Prison in Hempfield.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
The entrance to the Westmoreland County Prison in Hempfield.

After nearly two years of delays, Westmoreland County Prison officials said Monday that a full-body scanner to search inmates for contraband when they enter the lockup soon will be installed.

The device, which will cost the county $170,000 over the next seven years to lease, originally was expected to be installed in 2015 but was delayed because of licensing issues and permits from the state.

“We finally hope to have it delivered and installed. It should be up and running in a week or two,” said warden John Walton.

Westmoreland's will be among the first county jails in the state with a full-body scanner.

The scanner will augment existing security protocols that require inmates to be strip searched and inspected when they enter the jail. Walton said the scanner will enable jail officials to better guard against tobacco, drugs, weapons and other contraband from entering the facility.

Initial plans exempt visitors and jail staff from having to pass through the scanner.

Meanwhile, jail officials continued to watch as the number of inmates housed in the facility continued to inch closer to overcrowding levels.

Walton said 688 inmates were assigned to the jail Monday. Capacity is 711 inmates, and officials have started negotiations with the new owners for the closed SCI Greensburg to acquire a 150-inmate portable housing pod.

The inmate population has increased by nearly 6 percent from a year ago and, as a result, costs associated with medical services at the jail have increased.

The existing deal with Wexford Health Sources calls for the county to pay the company $2 million a year to provide inmate health care. The contract, though, requires the county to make additional payments once the average monthly inmate population exceeds 650.

That additional payment has totaled more than $13,000 so far this year, Walton said.

Meanwhile, the number of inmates who require detox for drug addiction has decreased in the last month. Prison officials said that for most of the year, about 60 percent to 70 percent of all new inmates required some treatment for drug withdrawal, but in August just 54 percent needed detox services.

“It's a significant drop, and I don't know why,” Walton said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or

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