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Body scanner, paid for with federal CARES Act funds, helps keep drugs, contraband out of Harford County jail

A new body scanner is making it harder for inmates to smuggle drugs and other contraband items into the Harford County Detention Center.

Warden Daniel Galbraith said the scanner, which has been in operation since January, provides a more thorough and less-intrusive sweep of inmates, replacing the regular searches of inmates upon entry to the detention center. He likened it to the X-ray machines found at BWI and said the machine makes the jail safer for deputies and inmates.

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Other jails around the state have similar scanners, he said.

The machine cost $153,000 and was paid for with CARES Act funding, justified as a way for deputies and inmates to avoid entering each others’ personal space during the COVID-19 pandemic, Galbraith said. Previously, inmates in the detention center have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Individuals who are searched using the scanner include people who have been newly arrested, inmates reporting to serve jail sentences during the weekends, those “self reporting” to the detention center, plus inmates who are returning from appearances in court, medical visits and other events outside the facility, according to Cristie Hopkins, a spokesperson for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail.

Hopkins previously told The Aegis that amounts to more than 6,200 inmates each year. Visitors to the jail are not subject to the scans, but still have to go through an existing metal detector. Visitation to the jail, which has been largely suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, is scheduled to resume Monday.

The scanner is used on people who can stand on its horizontally sliding platform, which passes across a sensory threshold twice before rendering an image. Those with a pacemaker and people undergoing chemotherapy, among others, are not scanned, Galbraith said.

Senior Deputy Corrections Officer Megan McBride, back, goes through a scan on the Soter RS full body scanner performed by Lt. Sean Kahler, right, at Harford County Detention Center Wednesday, March 17, 2021. The X-ray type machine is similar to scanners used at BWI airport.
Senior Deputy Corrections Officer Megan McBride, back, goes through a scan on the Soter RS full body scanner performed by Lt. Sean Kahler, right, at Harford County Detention Center Wednesday, March 17, 2021. The X-ray type machine is similar to scanners used at BWI airport. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

Deputies operating the machine can overlay a variety of filters on the images it produces that make some details pop out more, Lt. Sean Kahler said. Demonstrated on a correctional deputy, the scanner highlighted the keys she was carrying, the zipper on her clothes and even the internal components of the stun gun at her hip. It scanned down to her very bones and heart, both visible on the display.

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“So whoever said deputies don’t have a heart, I am here to tell you that we do,” Galbraith joked.

Both male and female deputies have been trained to use the scanner and will operate it depending on the gender of the inmate being scanned, Kahler said.

All inmates have to be searched upon entry to the jail, and while not all go through the machine, most do in view of the other option: a standard search and the possibility of a stint in a holding cell with a waterless toilet that can only be flushed by deputies. The purpose of that, Galbraith explained, was to make sure inmates do not have drugs or unapproved items on their person — or in it — and to wait for contraband to pass.

Because of its sensitivity, the scanner also functions as a deterrent.

“We have had people say ‘nope you are not going to do that’ because they knew they were carrying something,” Galbraith said.

Some, upon seeing the scanner, some have voluntarily surrendered contraband they are attempting to bring into the jail, Sgt. Ben Elliott said. And some who opt for waiting in the dry cell come around to the scanner. Demand for drugs in jail is just as high as it is on the street, Elliott said, and if powerful narcotics make it in, they can make inmates sick or worse.

“We have had people who choose not to do this and do dry-cell, and within 24-hours of them taking option B are like ‘hey, put me on the scanner,’” Elliott said.

There have been 161 incidents of contraband smuggling over the past three years as people who have been arrested or are reporting to the jail try to bring in weapons, illegal drugs, prescription drugs and other items, often hidden in their body cavities, according to Hopkins.

A long time veteran of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Harford County Detention Center Warden Daniel Galbraith officially took the job as warden in January 2021. Galbraith spoke about his expectations, hopes and plans for the detention center during and after COVID-19 during an interview Wednesday, March 17, 2021 at the facility.
A long time veteran of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Harford County Detention Center Warden Daniel Galbraith officially took the job as warden in January 2021. Galbraith spoke about his expectations, hopes and plans for the detention center during and after COVID-19 during an interview Wednesday, March 17, 2021 at the facility. (Matt Button / The Aegis)

New warden working to address inmate concerns

Daniel Galbraith is the new warden at the detention center. He has held the job since Jan. 19 after the previous warden Michael Capasso retired in December. Before his promotion, he most recently served as the chief of the office’s Services and Support Bureau. His more than 30-year career at the sheriff’s office — and work on special projects and services at the jail — allowed him to step into the role with an understanding of the job, though he had no jail administration experience before, he said.

Galbraith said he is trying to be responsive to inmate concerns; he often goes back into the housing units of the jail and answers inmate questions. Inmates also ask questions of him through a form the jail provides.

While Galbraith recognizes that the detention center is not a place people want to be, he is working to address inmate concerns and make some changes to the organization where he sees room for improvement for inmates and correctional deputies.

One of those areas is visitation, Galbraith said. Visitation at the jail is set to resume Monday, March 22, as coronavirus metrics have come down since spikes in the fall and winter. Visits will be allowed Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. They can be scheduled one week in advance by calling the detention center.

Since COVID struck the state, the jail has stopped commingling housing units and visitation has been largely restricted to keep the coronavirus out. But with visitors scheduled to return Monday, Galbraith said the jail will move to a rotating schedule to give families more flexibility to see their loved ones.

“We are having a rotating one because if someone has visitation Wednesday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and their family members are out and they are working Wednesday at 3 p.m., it’s not fair. I don’t think it is fair,” he said. “I want a rotating schedule so the family members will have more opportunity at different times of the day, different days of the week to come in and see their loved ones.”

Speaking to inmates, Galbraith said he can see how the lack of visitation has affected them and how important it was to resume.

“Some of these people have not seen their families in a year because of COVID,” he said. “I have a couple inmates back there that have had children and they have not even seen them.”

Galbraith said he is trying to foster a culture of mutual respect between inmates and the deputies that oversee them. That includes making the deputies talk with the inmates and responding to their concerns.

It is a give and take, he explained, like letting inmates keep their televisions on longer in exchange for keeping some areas of the jail clean, or listening to their issues with prices at the commissary.

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“These inmates live here 24/7,” he said. “I am trying to work with them.”

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