CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A Lowcountry jail is cracking down on the crimes happening behind the bars at the Al Cannon Detention Center. Inmates smuggling in contraband, including drugs is a growing problem at the facility.
Overdoses at the Al Cannon Detention Center more than tripled in 2021 from 2020. Officials say detection of illegal drugs isn’t always easy, with them often hidden in hard-to-find places.
“Everything,” says Sargeant Paula Webb, an Intake Supervisor at the detention center and Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Deputy. “Meth, crack, heroin, ecstasy. They’re becoming more frequent in here now.”
From the streets to the jail, inmates are finding new ways to smuggle drugs, even while behind bars.
“Any drugs that are internal, they are harder to find unless we get evidence of it on a strip search,” says Webb.
The methods to get those drugs into facilities vary. Techniques include swallowing balloons full of pills, hiding plastic baggies in hard-to-find places, or keeping drugs hidden in shoes or clothing.
“We have no way of knowing if they have it in a body cavity if they have it far enough away from the surface,” says Sargeant Webb. “We’re not going to be able to find it on a strip search.”
Over the last year, the number of overdoses has increased three-fold at the Al Cannon Detention center rising from just 4 in 2020 to 14 between April 2021 and the end of the year.
“It’s mentally not healthy for us to see that day in and day out when you’re having to revive somebody that’s overdosed on something that’s got into your unit,” says Sargeant Webb.
The previous best methods CCSO used to find drugs required a deputy pat search and a strip search inmates perform on themselves in front of deputies. As drugs have become more prevalent, officials wanted to find a better way to scan for drugs. A potential answer for CCSO, purchasing a full body X-ray scanner.
“Things will show up on the body scanner that are irregular inside the body,” says Webb. “If you have balloons, whatever the outline is of the contraband that they may have internally, it’s going to show up on the body scan.
Intake staff is still being trained on the new scanner which scans your body from left to right, sending an x-ray image to a computer.
The X-rays can change exposure and reveal everything down to muscle mass or rods and screws you may have in your body from medical procedures. Scans for inmates are saved and can be compared for repeat offenders under the same inmate number.
“It would also slow down what is coming into the facility because once it gets the word out that we have a body scanner and that yes we will find it, it will probably more than likely slowdown the intake of medications or drugs inside somebody coming through intake,” says Sargeant Webb.
In a little over two weeks since being put to use, deputies have found bullets lodged in people’s bodies and even handcuff keys hidden in a shoe.
“Nothing is perfect but I do believe this is going to be a really good tool for us in intake,” says Sargeant Webb.
Officials hope this new piece of technology will keep the drug crisis out of the cells.
“I mean it’s pretty much the same all of the time, that somebody’s going to try to come through the door with something on them,” says Sargeant Webb. “We just have to be diligent and find it.”
In part two of our series, Drugs and Overdoses at the Al Cannon Detention Center, we’ll give you a more in-depth look at the new technology while breaking down the impacts the increased drug presence is having on the facility.