RALEIGH – State prisons, including Lumberton Correctional Institution, will switch to a new mail system next month in an effort to curb smuggling.
From October 18, mail to state prison inmates must be sent directly to TextBehind. In the new system, inmates will receive copies of letters sent to them.
Details will be posted on the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website with instructions for sending the letters.
Prison officials said smuggling was the main reason for contracting with the Maryland-based company.
âThe safety and security of our prisons is always paramount,â said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. âReducing the volume of drugs and other contraband entering our prisons will help us protect our staff, the offenders in our custody and the general public. This new system will be faster and more secure.
Contraband will be reduced as TextBehind provides copies of the mail to violators, not the originals. The new system is expected to reduce delivery times from mail to next day delivery once received by the business.
âIt is unfortunate that the actions of a few have created a situation where offenders will no longer be able to touch the original of a paper letter, a handwritten greeting card or their children’s artwork. But it is a step that prisons have had to take to ensure that our facilities remain safe and secure environments for our staff, for offenders in our care and for the general public, âsaid Brad Deen, Prison Communications Manager at NCDPS.
TextBehind, which processes mail for prisons and prisons across the country, will copy content sent, including maps, photos and illustrations, according to NCDPS. The company will then send the digital files to the prison where the offender is being held. The prison mail room at this facility will print the pages and deliver them to the offender.
âPrisons has been working with TextBehind since February 2020 to process mail from offenders at our four women’s facilities. The results of the pilot project have been excellent, so we are expanding it to 51 men’s prisons, âsaid Deen.
According to the NCDPS, disciplinary offenses for substance possession and use by offenders fell 50% the year after women’s facilities began using TextBehind. During the same period, men’s prisons recorded 568 cases of drugs or paraphernalia captured by mailroom staff.
Privacy will not be affected, as mail is already screened for security purposes before reaching inmates, Deen said.
In addition to hiding the contraband in prison mail, the smugglers have learned to turn the mail itself into drugs. Paper coated with liquid fentanyl, Suboxone, K2 or other controlled substance is difficult to distinguish from regular paper.
âSmuggling makes a prison dangerous in many ways,â Ishee said. âYou have offenders fighting for control of the contraband trade. You have the risk of overdoses. Anything we can do to end this makes our prisons a safer and more secure place to live and work. “
Ishee also said that having the mail handled by a third party “removes the risk of exposure for prison staff.”
Prison systems across the country have switched to digital mail in recent years, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas, according to the NCDPS. Many prisons nationwide have also done this through multiple digital mail delivery companies.
Alternatively, all legal correspondence, records, vouchers and court documents should be sent to the prison directly by a lawyer or legal organization. These items should be clearly marked as legal mail and will be inspected by the prison mail handlers within the facility.
In addition to processing mail sent through the US Postal Service, TextBehind offers a smartphone or computer app. People wishing to send letters, greeting cards, and uploaded photos and illustrations to offenders can do so using the app. Downloading the app is free, but there is a fee (starting at 49 cents) for sending content.
Since the company derives its revenue from the application fees, DPS and North Carolina will not pay anything for the service, not even for the copies. TextBehind will provide high-speed printers and printer maintenance to the 55 state prisons.
âPrisons work hard to ban drugs before they enter jail. Drug smuggling into prisons is a national problem, not just a North Carolina problem, âDeen said.
âIt is a constant battle, fought on a daily basis. Drugs enter prisons despite considerable efforts to prevent them from entering. As soon as we plug a hole in an area, offenders find a workaround. Drugs are thrown over fences, hidden in mail, brought in by staff, or smuggled during visits. Prison policy is to alert local law enforcement and support prosecutions whenever someone – friend, family or staff – is caught trying to smuggle drugs inside. from prison, âhe added.
The drugs are illegal and cause medical problems, violence and extortion in prison inmates, Deen said. The presence of drugs “also undermines our rehabilitation efforts.”
Over the past four years, the prison system has increased the use of dogs in drug searches, raised the height of fences, installed motion detectors and more to prevent drug entry into prisons, Deen said.
âWe want offenders to be employed, healthy, drug-free and ready for a successful release,â Deen said.