ShareThis Page

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 rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.