NM inmates now only receive photocopied mail

Trucking company owner Earl Weston spent 27 years in New Mexico prisons. He says a new mail delivery system is complicating his ability to reach current inmates. (Courtesy of Earl Weston)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Earl Weston knows the isolation of being in prison and the importance of a magazine or a letter from a friend or family member.

He served 27 years in New Mexico prisons for a murder conviction. Since his release in 2014, he has befriended a number of people who are still serving time behind bars.

Since February 1, corresponding with incarcerated friends has become more difficult. The New Mexico Department of Corrections, in an attempt to intercept drugs hidden in the mail, is now providing inmates with photocopies of letters rather than the originals — which they never see and are ultimately destroyed, the porter said. floor of the correctional department, Eric Harrison.

Inmates also no longer receive parcels, magazines, personal checks or cash.

Harrison said the inmates received personal letters with paper and envelopes sprayed with a number of drugs, including spices, fentanyl and Suboxone, a narcotic often used in the treatment of opioid addiction. Inmates chewed or swallowed pieces of paper to ingest the drugs.

Weston said he became aware of the change in mail procedure while corresponding with Michael Clark, an inmate at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces.

Weston said Clark and other inmates criticized the change and he questioned why all inmates should be penalized for the actions of a few.

Under the old system, correctional officers opened inmates’ mail to search for contraband; any money orders or cash in these envelopes were withdrawn and credited to the inmate’s prison account before correspondence was forwarded to individuals.

The biggest issue, Weston said, was that “sometimes the mail would get a little slow or backed up if a corrections officer assigned to the mailroom was on vacation or sick.”

The new procedure requires that mail from inmates at the eight prisons operated by the State Department of Corrections be addressed to the digital mail center of Securus Technologies in Tampa, Fla., a prison communications company. Securus opens and filters the mail and scans it into a computer system. From there it is made available to each of the prisons, which download the records and print photocopies of correspondence for inmates.

Originals sent to Securus in Florida are then destroyed, Harrison said. Parcels, as well as letters containing cash and personal checks, are returned to the sender. Inmate mail that continues to be received in prisons is also returned to sender.

The exception is privileged mail, such as documents from a lawyer, judge or the courts. These can be sent directly to a prison, where they are opened in the presence of the inmate and, after being checked for contraband, are released to that person, Harrison said.

The two private jails in Lea and Otero counties continue to receive mail on their premises and have not signed with Securus, Harrison said.

Weston, who now lives in California and owns a commercial trucking business, said “drugs will always be a problem in prisons because there’s a huge demand and there’s money to be made.” However, he expressed doubts that the paper containing drugs is the primary means by which inmates obtain illegal substances.

Weston also asked “why does a company in Florida get money to operate a prison mail system, instead of a company in New Mexico?”

Harrison said he wasn’t aware of any other company in New Mexico that provided this type of courier service and that Securus already operated the state prison phone system, it made sense to just expand its services.

The cost to Corrections for the Securus mail system is $3.50 per inmate per month, regardless of how much mail each inmate receives, Harrison said. With about 3,800 inmates currently in the eight state facilities, that’s $13,300 a month, or just under $160,000 a year.

Harrison said he didn’t know how much it cost in the past to process prison mail, but prison officers had to be taken off their regular duties to open and screen mail, which was time-consuming.

While it’s too early to tell if the new messaging system will prove cost-effective or effective in reducing smuggling, he said the reality is that drug-using inmates pose a threat to their safety and that of correctional officers.

Harrison said he didn’t know how many instances there were of inmates extracting drugs from laced correspondence, only that it “occurred regularly.”

“There were a number of incidents where individuals had to be given Narcan (to counter drug overdoses) and they later confessed that they had received the drugs in the mail,” Harrison said.

Inmate Michael Clark said in a telephone interview with the Journal that he was particularly irritated because inmates no longer receive magazines, including educational and faith-based publications or newspapers – items that Securus does not digitize and do not download.

Securus did not respond to calls or emails from the Journal seeking comment.

“This stuff comes directly from publishers, churches, religious groups or educational companies. They won’t put drugs in this thing,” said Clark, who was convicted of a 1991 murder in Chaves County and sentenced to life in prison plus 24 years.

“I have another 12 years before I apply to a parole board,” he said, adding that “it’s a long way to go” with limited mail availability.

” I do not like it. Nobody likes it, nobody is happy about it. It’s just frustrating,” said Clark, who said he expressed his concerns in letters to the governor and the secretary of corrections, and is still awaiting a response.

Clark said he also filed a formal grievance through normal prison internal channels. “I was told I was out of time, that I was supposed to have filed it within 10 days of the issue. Ten days from when? It is a permanent problem. »

According to Harrison, prison officials are reviewing the new procedure as it relates to magazines and other materials sent directly from publishers. It is possible, he said, that these will eventually be made available to inmates, or that access will be provided by prison libraries.

The whole thing seems a bit misguided, Clark said. “I know stopping our mail hasn’t stopped the drugs. I can tell you a lot.”

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