Merced County jails to get body scanner and video visitation system

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County is in the process of getting a new body scanner and a video visitation system to increase security at its jails.

The board of supervisors approved $250,000 to buy the first ever body scanner for the main jail in Downtown Merced. The sheriff's office is also working to add video visitation at its other facility. The goal is to keep drugs and weapons away from the inmates.

Sheriff Vern Warnke said, "We've got to remember under prop 47 that the folks that are being booked now are very serious offenders so we've got to keep that in mind too. They're not in there for singing too loud in church."

That's why the board of supervisors approved plans to buy a body scanner for the main jail. It's advertised as a low dose x-ray scanning system that can detect drugs, weapons, and much more without revealing skin surface in order to protect privacy.

Sheriff Warnke added, "Having that tool for us is going to be paramount to keeping our facility a little closer to being drug free and a lot safer for our staff."

Meanwhile, the John Latorraca Correctional Center is in the process of adding video visitation. Each dorm would have its own screen, and loved ones could speak with the inmates from a public area at the jail, or pay a fee to connect with them from home. The equipment would come at no cost to the county through the current communications provider, in exchange for a share of the revenue it creates. Sheriff Vern Warnke says the system would also improve efficiency because inmates don't have to be moved back and forth.

Sheriff Warnke explained, "What this is going to do is take the current staffing levels and apply them to places where they can be doing something other than having to worry about the visitations that we're so concerned with."

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey raised concerns about the lack of in person visiting for those who have not yet been convicted or have special family circumstances -- but was reassured to learn that would still be possible too.

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