I-Team 8

Federal coronavirus relief money paid for $162,000 touchless jail scanner

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 was originally intended to take care of the most basic needs of local governments.

When the pandemic began, most local governments did not have access to or the budget for personal protective equipment, testing and medical supplies. This money was supposed to bridge that gap.

Then the Department of the Treasury changed the rules on how the money could be used and local governments in Indiana found ways to spend the money. 

 “There was information out there that CARES Act money could be used for anything that could be justified as COVID-related,” Major Matt Rhinehart with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said.  

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department bought a touchless full body scanner for the county jail for $162,698.12, all approved by the Indiana Finance Authority.  

“The fact that it hopefully is slowing down some a form of transmission by everyone touching everything” Rhinehart said. 

 To demonstrate how the new machine works, we scanned News 8 Chief Photographer John LeSage.  

The scanner can detect almost any object; it is clear what is in his pockets. Even the untrained eye can spot metal objects and many items not visible to the naked eye.  

Rhinehart says the machine is taking the place of the old fashioned pat down. But the primary reason the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department bought this scanner is the ultraviolet light cleaning system, Rhinehart says.

The UV light is supposed to eliminate any lingering viruses or germs, including the coronavirus. And more importantly, according to Mayor Rhinehart, his staff doesn’t have to touch an inmate, which he hopes will reduce exposure to the virus.

Johnson County, like many jails in Indiana, was hit hard by COVID-19. The other scanner in the building requires jail staff to clean the handrails and other surfaces inmates come into contact with while being scanned. And the older scanner is open, which could allow the virus to spread to everyone in the room.  

“I want to say it was April of 2020 we had our first couple of cases that ticked off,” Rhinehart said. “And then we, everything was so new to everyone, we sought guidance from obviously the CDC, our local health department and one of the things we choose to do was we tested everyone in our jail. We had the COVID “strike team” from the state come down. We tested everyone but four people in the facility at the time and almost half tested positive.” 

Johnson County is not the only jail to pick up a new scanner with a cleaning system. Knox County spent $275,000 on new scanners. The sheriff declined I-Team’s invitation to come on camera. Wells County spent $149,000 to clean and sanitize their jail. At least one county bought a robot to clean a jail. 

This is the third story in a series we’re calling “INside Story.” The rest of Richard‘s stories looking into coronavirus relief bill spending will air each evening this week on News 8.

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