New full-body scanners unveiled at Cook County Jail
Officials say machines should reduce need for strip searches
An inmate participates in a demonstration of one of the new body scanners at Cook County Jail on Tuesday. (Scott Strazzante, Tribune photo / March 15, 2011)
ct-met-jail-body-scanning-20110315In a move to improve security for both inmates and corrections officers, the Cook County Jail unveiled four new full-body scanners that should reduce the need for strip searches, Sheriff Tom Dart said Tuesday.
The machines were installed in November in the jail's two maximum-security divisions as well as both the men's and women's receiving rooms where detainees are first processed, Dart said.
The technology allows officers to better detect contraband, particularly narcotics, smuggled in through body cavities and will reduce the need for strip searches, officials said.
"This will now allow us to ensure that virtually no (strip) searches will go on because the machine does it for us," Dart said.
The jail's use of strip searches came under fire when a class-action lawsuit was brought against Cook County in 2006. The County Board voted to settle the lawsuit for $55.3 million in November to compensate as many as 250,000 inmates who endured the strip searches in degrading conditions over a five-year period.
In 2008, a federal judge also ruled unconstitutional the jail's practice of strip-searching inmates who were ordered released from custody.
Dart acknowledged that those lawsuits influenced the switch to body scanners.
"I'm trying to take the human component out of this completely," the sheriff said.
The jail first started using L-3 scanners — the ones currently used in airports — in 2008. Some of those will be moved to Cook County courthouses to scan detainees as they enter for court proceedings, Dart said.
Steve Patterson, Dart's spokesman, said corrections officers will continue conducting strip searches, but only under certain circumstances, including if they detect something hidden in a body cavity with the use of the new scanners.
Officials said the imagery from the new scanners is less revealing than the L-3 machines, which have been widely criticized as too invasive. However, a demonstration of the technology did show significant detail.
Nonetheless, Dart said he felt more advanced technology was necessary.
"There were some issues with what the L-3s were showing, but this is a jail," he said. "Someone's in here on a serious case. Are there different levels of personal privacy you have? Absolutely you do. Even though it may have shown some parts of the body that people would prefer not to, this is a jail."