There are more drugs and fights this year in Kern County jails, according to the Sheriff's Department. They say it's because AB 109, the prison realignment program, moved more felons and gang members into their jails.
The Sheriff's Department said more than one-third of Kern County jail inmates are felons, and more than half are gang members. But, they have a new, high-tech idea to help keep drugs out and cut down on violence.
"Real drugs are being brought into the jail right now, by real people," said Konrad Moore, Chief Assistant Public Defender for the Kern County Public Defenders Office.
The Sheriff's Department says drug use is up 75 percent in Kern County jails since last year, and incidents like fights are up 40 percent. The jail administration blames changing demographics, which include more sophisticated inmates transferred from state prisons.
"Because they are here longer, they are able to exploit any security gaps they can find," said Chief Deputy Kevin Zimmerman, who overseas all the jails for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
They're in jail longer because in October 2011, AB 109 moved about 2,000 non-violent state prisoners into the local jails. As a result, 86 percent of inmates here are felons; 55 percent are validated gang members.
"Their level of sophistication has affected our security measures on every level at every jail," said Chief Deputy Zimmerman.
The Sheriff's Department said some gang members are even being arrested on purpose just to smuggle drugs into jail.
"They will create a bundle to secrete in one of their orifices, and then they will commit some low level crime and they'll come to jail for a few days and deliver their narcotics, their tobacco or whatever else was ordered," said Zimmerman.
The law specifies that deputies cannot search inside an inmate's body, which is why the Sheriff's Department wants to purchase a full body scanner like the ones used at airports.
"It offers us a tool to be able to find these folks that are behaving this way," said Zimmerman.
The Kern County Public Defender's Office also wants a full body scanner to limit the intrusiveness of strip searches. They believe it will keep their clients safer.
"Strip searches are, as the name suggests, requiring an individual to take off their clothes," said Konrad Moore. "So, there is a matter of respect and dignity that we want to make sure we strive to promote and protect our clients' rights."
While both offices want the scanner now, they're willing to wait to get it.
"We think it's a worthwhile tool to at least investigate and introduce into our system," said Zimmerman.