up inmate contraband crackdown
W.Va. – Aided by the legal community, West Virginia’s correctional
facilities are thwarting yet another scheme for smuggling drugs to inmates: faking
or compromising mail from their lawyers.
Known as privileged mail, this
correspondence from legal counsel enjoys special protections to preserve
attorney-client confidentiality. But prisons and jails across West Virginia
have caught multiple attempts to exploit these protections, including by hiding
drugs within fabricated or stolen law firm stationary.
"Inmates and their co-conspirators,
through their attempts to misuse legally privileged mail to traffic in dangerous
contraband, compromise the integrity of the attorney-client privilege and the
safety of the public, correctional employees and other inmates,” said acting
Corrections Commissioner Mike Coleman.
A new, continuously changing alphanumeric
code now allows all Division of Corrections (prisons), Regional Jail Authority and
Division of Juvenile Services facilities to identify legitimate privileged
legal mail – and flag contraband.
“No one, especially me, wants to see an
inmate die from illegal drugs,” said Secretary Jeff Sandy of the Department of
Military Affairs and Public Safety, which oversees all three correctional
agencies. “This is yet another example of the Justice Administration
accomplishing something that many said could not be done.”
West Virginia’s Public Defender Services,
part of the Department of Administration, developed the coding system. Public
Defender Services provides for indigent defense in West Virginia, including in
criminal proceedings, by funding both court-appointed private attorneys and
full-time public defenders.
“I was extremely impressed that the
Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety reached out to our agency
because of their concern that the constitutional rights of persons within their
custody needed to be considered in the effort to stop the flow of drugs into
the correctional facilities,” said Executive Director Dana Eddy of the Public
Defender Services. “This sensitivity to maintaining the confidentiality of the
communications to and from legal counsel made the final solution a
collaborative and holistic effort. The Department could very easily have been
heavy-handed and hard-hearted, but, instead, they solicited and accepted an
approach that ensures that those within their custody have the effective assistance
of counsel as is every citizen’s right under the Sixth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
The coding system debuted earlier this
month. It follows up on an earlier crackdown on non-privileged (personal of
business) mail. Only photocopies of these letters, pictures and other mailings
are provided to the intended inmate recipients.
Mail is a significant potential route for
smuggling: the 10 regional jails alone received and screened 300,000 pieces of
mail in 2016. Various drugs can be reduced to liquid form and then applied to
letters, envelopes, pictures and photographs. Corrections officials had even
found cases where drugs were melted in with crayons that were then used for
drawings that were mailed to inmates.
“We are fighting the war on drugs and we
are not going to give up our fight to reduce illegal drugs coming into our
correction facilities,” Secretary Sandy said. “This new project is also
beneficial for the West Virginia Bar, because no law firm wants their firm’s
letterhead, envelopes, return address labels, or logo used or counterfeited to
introduce illegal drugs into West Virginia correctional facilities.”