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Prisons, Jails Combat Smuggling by Shredding Mail, Requiring Fresh Underwear

by Christopher Zoukis

The regional jail system in West Virginia receives and screens about 300,000 pieces of mail per year. Some letters contain illegal substances being smuggled into facilities for prisoners, particularly subuxone; in response, the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has implemented a new rule meant to foil such attempts.

The rule, which was reported by USA Today on March 27, 2017, is simple and straightforward: All incoming mail is shredded.

Of course, prisoners have a constitutional right to receive mail. So West Virginia regional jail officials are photocopying all incoming mail, shredding the original and distributing the copies to prisoners.

The Virginia Department of Corrections instituted a similar rule on April 17, 2017. According to VDOC official Lisa Kinney, nine prisoners have died since 2015 due to heroin overdoses; she also noted that drugs were intercepted in the mail a dozen times last year.

“These policy updates are a result of what we’ve seen,” Kinney said.

In an attempt to curtail smuggling during contact visitation, the VDOC also implemented a new policy that requires prisoners to strip out prior to a visit and put on state-issued clothing, including fresh underwear and socks.

A number of other jails and state prison systems are adopting rules designed to thwart contraband smuggling, including the Arkansas Department of Correction, which also is now photocopying correspondence and shredding the originals. The AR DOC’s new policy, effective August 21, 2017, also restricts letters to just three pages and bans large greeting cards, among other provisions.

According to prison spokesperson Solomon Graves, “This policy change was a result of intelligence received by the Department that inmates were introducing drugs into the facility by having mail soaked in liquefied drugs or having the drugs placed under stamps. These types of activities have been seen throughout the country in jails and prisons.” 



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