Lawrence County officials are studying ways that inmates can enter the labor force through a work release program.

One possibility is to purchase drug detection equipment that would prevent inmates from smuggling narcotics into the jail when they return after a day at work.

Common pleas Judge Dominick Motto suspended the program a year ago because of drug problems.

Some inmates returned from work with narcotics hidden in body cavities. Once inside the jail, they retrieved the drugs and distributed them to other inmates.

In one instance last year, an inmate who obtained narcotics from inside the jail died of an overdose.

The prison board and jail personnel saw a demonstration yesterday of General Electric’s drug and explosive detection equipment. The devices can indicate whether inmates have residue of either material on them.

Motto and the commissioners have discussed sharing the cost of the equipment.

The county is considering purchasing two components: a stationary machine called an Itemiser that scans inmates entering the jail and a hand-held unit called a VaporTracer that’s used for random searches inside cells.

Warden Charles H. Adamo said he favors the hand-held unit, but the Itemiser’s function “isn’t what I expected.”

Keith Porter, the GE sales representative, said the Itemiser detects residue on a person’s hands or clothing. However, it will not tell whether someone has swallowed narcotics or has them hidden in body cavities.

“That wasn’t what I was hoping for,” Adamo said. “It would be a deterrent, but it won’t totally solve the problem.”

Each system costs about $80,000. The county’s share would come from bond issue refinancing savings that are earmarked for capital improvements. Motto said he would pay half from his supervision fee fund.

Porter said that disposable items, such as gloves for the operating personnel and swabs used on the inmates, are extra, as is the cost of maintaining the machines.

The machines work similarly, he said, explaining that they agitate molecules, then heat up to 203 degrees Celsius and trace particles of explosives or drugs. The machines scan for street narcotics and take about seven seconds to analyze, he said.

Motto said that until the problems are resolved, he is not interested in revoking his order.

“If I was going to undo my prior order, the warden or district attorney would have to come to me and say that it’s safe now and they’ve changed procedures,” he said. “No one has come to me and asked for that.”

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