Missouri prisons ban mail, packages in attempt to slow contraband intake, drug overdoses

Missouri prisons ban mail and packages in attempt to slow contraband intake and drug overdoses
Missouri prisons ban mail and packages in attempt to slow contraband intake and drug overdoses
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 7:37 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - For those who are free and to those who’ve lost their freedom, America’s addiction continues to kill. Missouri’s latest action to cut off fentanyl and the like, may not be working. Changes to curb overdoses, drugs, and contraband from getting behind bars is taking heat. This comes after Missouri’s Department of Corrections (DOC) banned physical mail for prisoners.

When you’re cut off from the world, something as simple as a letter can help pass the time while doing the time. Missouri native, Eric Harris, knows what it’s like behind bars and is against the ban on mail and packages to inmates.

“It’s not going to stop overdoses because that’s not the main way of people getting, you know, suboxone strips,” Harris said.

Harris was in and out of the prison system for more than a decade. He said inside state correctional facilities, drugs and overdoses are far too common.

“It’s more like a pacifier for them. It’s not something they want to quote on quote engage in. It’s just like ‘I’m depressed and stressed and don’t have nobody and can use this to pass the time,’” Harris said.

Data from Missouri’s DOC, obtained by Missouri Prison Reform, shows in 2017, DOC averaged 31 overdoses a month. In July of this year, the department made its move to ban mail and packages, thinking this would change things.

Since then, state data shows an average of 37 overdoses per month, that’s higher than 2017′s average. Last month, overdoses tipped above average with 46 inmates overdoses.

“People’s loved ones are dying. These are individuals who have children, parents, spouses, and they’re terrified,” Lori Curry said.

Curry is the executive director for Missouri Prison Reform. It’s a state-wide non-profit advocating for inmates and their loved ones. She said stopping physical mail won’t slow down overdoses.

“The primary way they’re coming in are through correction staff and not just correction staff. They come in through medical staff, non-custody staff, maintenance staff,” Curry said.

Harris echoed her claim saying he witnessed staff bringing in drugs to inmates while he was incarcerated.

Here’s part of a statement DOC sent News 4 regarding the overdoses and the stopping of physical mail:

“It’s way too soon for the department to have collected enough data to accurately conclude whether the change in our mail procedure has affected the rate at which contraband is introduced.”

Curry and Harris both said more stringent changes need to happen.

“Some of the things they can do is, one, update or replace those metal detectors, stop searches aren’t being done frequently or well enough,” Curry said.

“I think they should do a better job at vetting people they’re bringing on staff,” Harris added.

DOC said all offenders, staff, visitors, volunteers and anyone else entering facilities are screened at entry. DOC said they use body scanners, drug dogs, and emergency response teams to conduct thorough searches of their facilities.