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Allegheny County buys full-body scanner for jail to reduce strip searches

July 29, 2018

Allegheny County Jail

Allegheny County has purchased a body scan machine to reduce the need for controversial strip searches inmates must undergo after meeting with legal representatives or therapists.

The county paid $95,000 for the scanner from Nuctech U.S., the American arm of a Chinese company, according to the contract.

Jail officials began strip searching inmates to try to prevent drug-soaked paper from entering the jail.

In January, an airborne substance sickened 15 Allegheny County Jail employees. Warden Orlando Harper said at the time that an informant told jail employees that inmates had smuggled in pieces of paper soaked in an unidentified illicit substance. Inmates smoked the paper to get high.

County Councilwoman Anita Prizio, D-O’Hara, in February issued a press release urging jail officials to stop the strip searches, especially searches of inmates who are sexual assault survivors after meeting with therapists.

″(They should not be) subjected to the loss of dignity and additional trauma that strip searches can induce,” she said.

Once the machine is installed, it is not clear which inmates will still need to be strip searched.

“This will be determined on a case-by-case basis as security dictates,” county spokeswoman Amie Downs wrote in an email.

The machine will operate similar to a Transportation Security Administration scanner, Harper said. The inmate will stand on a conveyor belt that will take the inmate through an open tunnel, where the machine will conduct the full body scan.

County officials expect to install the scanner this year, Harper said.

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