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West Virginia inmates will receive photocopies of mail to prevent drug smuggling

March 27, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
West Virginia inmates will receive photocopies of mail to prevent drug smuggling

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To prevent the ever-present and always evolving threat posed by contraband smuggling, West Virginia’s regional prison system has revised its prisoner mail policy, and the state’s jails are poised to follow suit.

Inmates in West Virginia’s ten regional jails now are given photocopies of their mail from relatives, friends, and businesses. The originals are destroyed. Any pictures in “non-privileged” mail are also photocopied, with the originals kept with the inmate’s personal belongings which they will be given upon release.

These revamped policies are attempts to thwart numerous attempts to smuggle contraband, and specifically various forms of counterfeit drugs, which are typically coated on mailings. This potential path for smuggling is considerable as the regional jail system alone received and inspected 300,000 pieces of mail in 2016.

“We are going to continue the fight to stop drugs from coming in. This is just Phase One,” Regional Jail Director David Farmer told the Newscenter.com.

Mount Olive Correctional complex in West Virginia

The Division of Corrections is working on a plan to implement a related policy at its 16 prison and work-release facilities across the state beginning in April.

“In every state where I keep in touch with deputy directors, they are experiencing the same problem,” Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Coleman said. “It varies by region of the country what the drug of choice is.”

West Virginia’s Division of Juvenile Services has also implemented a copying process, as of March 1st, for all mail at its ten detention and commitment facilities. All agencies involved in this crackdown are a part of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

“Illegal substance use in prisons not only erodes authority and control, but it also undermines the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” Secretary Jeff Sandy said. “Eliminating the problem helps ensure trust and the safety of all who work and reside within the correctional environment.”

Inmates find new and innovative ways to smuggle narcotics and contraband into state prisons across the U.S. (Photo: Finbarr O’Rourke)

The state’s correctional agencies are constantly assessing their policies to stop emerging forms of contraband and smuggling efforts. The regional jails, for example, previously stopped allowing contact visitations after catching prisoners receiving contraband hidden in a child’s diaper and while getting kisses, among numerous other occurrences.

Although a national problem, prisoner contraband in West Virginia illustrates the struggle that communities throughout the state experience with substance abuse. Of over 44,000 inmates in a regional jail last year, roughly 19,000 had to be enrolled in a detoxification or withdrawal program. That means that 43% of West Virginia’s inmate population brought a substance abuse problem into the jail with them.

West Virginia’s agencies also continue to attack substance abuse through treatment and recovery programs for offenders look to return to live lawful and productive lives.

The prison system has nine Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) facilities offering six-month to one-year inpatient programs. Two RSATs, one for males and the other for females, debuted in 2016 for inmates at the Southwestern Regional Jail in Logan County. There are 551 treatment beds, and their programs’ completion rate is 61%.

Through Justice Reinvestment, West Virginia has also invested millions of dollars to fund community-based treatment and recovery programs, both residential and outpatient, for offenders going back into society via parole, probation, or some other form of supervised release.

Juvenile Services provides substance abuse treatment as well, through its medical services contract, while 12-step-type programs are available in the prisons and jails. Corrections is also participating in a program run by the Department of Health and Human Resources that provides departing inmates with Vivitrol, which hinders the effects of opioid medication.

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