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Despite Official Claims, Stopping Mail to Missouri Prisoners Has No Effect on Drug Overdoses

by Benjamin Tschirhart

The drugs are coming in the mail. Or so they say. There’s no question that the drugs are coming into Missouri state prisons; an average of 34 prisoner overdoses a month is a trend that officials can’t afford to ignore. Their answer? Restrict the freedoms and infringe on the human rights of their prisoners. This time, it’s the mail.

Beginning on July 1, 2022, the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) implemented a policy which bars prisoners from receiving physical mail. Instead, all mail is routed through a privately contracted firm in Florida where it is scanned. Then a digital rendering is sent to prisoners to be viewed on tablets or other devices – which are also provided and serviced by privately contracted vendors.

The new policy drew negative responses from prisoners and their loved ones, as yet another link between them was severed. Hardest hit are those prisoners in solitary confinement, who often lack access to the electronics required to view mail under the new policy.

DOC spokesperson Karen Pojmann described how “drugs … can be liquefied and soaked into the paper itself which is hard to detect… We also find drugs hidden between the layers of greeting cards, tucked under postage stamps.”

This is the standard authoritarian line. The population can be kept safe, if only freedoms are sacrificed. But this time, there is an objective measure of the effectiveness of the policy. According to the narrative, stopping physical mail will prevent the drugs that cause overdoses from reaching prisoners. Instead, the average number of overdoses in DOC lockups increased from 34 to almost 39 a month. In September 2022 alone, there were 46 overdoses, with 15 at a single prison – South Central Correctional Center (SCCC) in Licking. Apparently, it’s not just the mail. But the mail is still gone.

The executive director of the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, Tim Cutt, tells a more plausible story. He says the primary vector for drugs in the prisons is through custodial and non-custodial staff, and that “passing a new law isn’t going to stop it… It’s the oldest game in the book trying to get that stuff in there.”

Of the 15 overdose deaths in SCCC, seven prisoners in late August and September 2022 died from powerful overdoses of fentanyl, and in once case fentanyl and xylazine, a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use.

DOC turned down an on-camera interview with KOLR to explain how drugs are getting in. Communications Director Pojmann sent an email saying they can’t identify the primary source, and suggested that prison overdose deaths mirror drug fatality rates on the outside. Pojmann reminded the news station that drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Missourians ages 18 to 44.

Pojmann also confirmed that during August and September 2022, there were DOC staffers fired and arrested for smuggling drugs into state prisons. Curiously, no arrests were made in Licking.

Sources: KOLR, Riverfront Times

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