Finding Hope


FINDING HOPE: Catching contraband before it lands behind bars

Canyon County Jail
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 19:40:45-04

CALDWELL, Idaho — After a few drug overdoses inside the Canyon County Jail, Sheriff Kieran Donahue is pushing to install an x-ray body scanner to cut down on contraband being smuggled into the facility.

Similar equipment is already being used at jails across the country, including in Ada County.

Recently, things at the Dale Haile Detention Center in Caldwell turned deadly. Two back-to-back overdoses among women being booked into the jail pushed the sheriff over the edge.

In March, he wrote a memo to jail and county leaders outlining the need to start seriously looking at x-ray body scanners "sooner rather than later."

"We had a person who smuggled drugs in inside a body cavity, swallowed or what have you; One person passed away. We couldn’t save her," Sheriff Donahue said. "Another female, same type of thing. The staff was able to catch it and we got her to a hospital and were able to save her life."

Another breaking point was when two of the sheriff's deputies had a close call coming in contact with the deadly synthetic opioid Fentanyl.

"Dealing with the material in that person’s possessions, they were both struck by Fentanyl exposure and immediately went down," Donahue said. "They had to Narcan them both here, haul them to the hospital, one of the deputies collapses again, go to a Narcan drip, save his life, I mean that is incredibly serious."

When drugs do make it into the pod, Donahue says it creates chaos with combative inmates while others use it as currency to swap for commissary.

"If somebody knows you got it then they’re going to want some of it, right? And so then there’s potential for disaster right there," Donahue said.

Currently, Donahue says the most dangerous problems in Canyon County are methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl. The goal is to find the contraband before it makes it inside, installing the x-ray scanner as the first step of the booking process.

Part of the research process involved Canyon Co. jail leaders taking a trip to Ada County where a similar machine was installed in 2019.

“Dozens and dozens of instances of finding drugs on people based solely on the scans that we have in here so it’s worked fantastic," Ada Co. jail deputy Bradley Briscoe said.

So far, four companies have submitted bids for the contract in Canyon County. The options have comparable features ranging in price from roughly $150,000 to $180,000.

Sheriff Donahue says since the scanner would allow officers to maintain more distance with inmates during the booking process, the equipment qualifies for use of federal Covid relief money.

Protests to the proposal last month put the project on pause, but even with installation months away, Sheriff Donahue says he's not giving up until it's in place. Eventually, hoping the scanner serves as a deterrent.

The budget needs to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. They plan to discuss the next steps for the project this week.

We'll keep you updated as it moves forward.