BRIDGETON — After nearly 30 people were exposed to a mixture of heroin and fentanyl at an Ohio prison Wednesday, the president of the Cumberland County corrections officers union is wondering why the jail’s new $138,000 body scanner is still not operational.

Prison guards, nurses and inmates at Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio, were treated with the anti-opioid drug naloxone after an inmate showed signs of a drug overdose.

In an email addressed to Cumberland jail Warden Richard Smith and other county officials, Victor Bermudez, president of PBA Local 231, asked for the status of the body scanner and a firm date for when it will be up and running, calling it a “safety liability issue.”

The scanner was delivered to the jail in May.

County Administrator Ken Mecouch confirmed he had received the email, and in his forwarded reply to Bermudez, said they were waiting on dosimeter badges that measure radiation exposure for those working around or near the unit. He said they were received Wednesday.

“I would expect the unit will be operational within the next 14 days,” Mecouch said.

The Cumberland County jail is the third in the state, joining Camden and Monmouth counties, with a body scanner, which will allow officers to see weapons, drugs and other banned material inmates may attempt to smuggle into the facility on or in their body. In a July interview with The Press of Atlantic City, Smith said the scanner would be operational in two weeks, pending the delivery of the dosimeter badges, and that the radiation exposure is equal to that of dental X-rays.

“Why weren’t these procedures put into effect when it was delivered?” Stuart Alterman, attorney for the union, asked in a phone interview Saturday. “Normally, when you’re spending money like that, particularly the public’s money, you work all that stuff out so you can hit the ground running rather than stand there and answer questions about why all the incompetence.”

In the July interview, Smith said that since March 2017, officers have revived 26 inmates with naloxone. Mecouch said there have been no additional saves since.

“Safety should be paramount in a reactive climate where history and education from today’s Ohio event should serve as a caveat to the banner effort for change while raising awareness to prioritize the effort to implement the reported equipment for present use,” Bermudez said. “At this point it has become disheartening and a representation of what has truly taken place in the jail facility.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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