Prisons Take New Steps To Prevent Drug Smuggling

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In New Hampshire, a new rule bars inmates and their visitors from hugging for more than three seconds. In Virginia, prisoners must change their underwear before and after receiving a visitor. States are placing new limits on what kind of mail inmates can receive, Stateline reports. The changes are designed to keep drugs, especially opioids, out of prison. Of particular concern is Suboxone, an addiction-treatment drug whose razor-thin strips, designed to be placed under the tongue, are easily hidden. The drugs can help tame withdrawals for those already addicted to opioids or provide a mild high to those who are not.

Once affixed to something, Suboxone strips leave a pale yellow outline. Prison officials have found the strips hidden under postage stamps and concealed by crayon drawings. In visiting rooms, people have transferred the drugs to each other during embraces and hidden them in packages of food from on-site vending machines. Drugs have long been a problem in prisons; the opioid epidemic is straining the resources of prison staff in a way other drugs have not. Prison officials say they cannot stand by as the drugs cause overdoses and cause gang activity. They say they have moved to limit inmates’ contact with the outside world after it’s been shown as an avenue for drug smuggling. Critics question the effectiveness of the strategies and say they unfairly restrict the rights of prisoners and their visitors while ignoring the possible role of prison staff. New Hampshire rolled out its policy in January after four overdoses that month, one of which was fatal. In addition to the time limit on hugs, the state banned kissing between inmates and visitors and removed board games and vending machine food from visiting rooms.

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