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Mail an avenue for drugs to get into prison

BRUCETON MILLS — A correctional officer at USP Hazelton was taken to the hospital after being exposed to drugs this week.

“While he was searching through the inmate’s legal mail, he got exposed to drugs, amphetamines, that was possibly soaked in the legal paperwork,” American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 420 President Justin Tarovisky said.

The guard was given two doses of Narcan, almost passed out and was taken to the hospital, Tarovisky said. He praised the way officers and staff responded to the emergency and how quickly it was handled.

The officer was released from the hospital the same day and is doing good, Tarovisky said.

“This is just another point that we’re having issues with drugs coming through the mail,” Tarovisky said. “Inmates trying to circumvent the system and send them through legal mail.”

When asked if mail, including legal mail, was searched before inmates received it, Tarovisky said he could not talk about security procedures.

However, he said the way inmates get drugs into prison using mail has become sophisticated with drugs being turned into coating for paper.

“When we have officers falling out over drugs that are coming in through the mail, we have to adapt and we have to change,” Tarovisky said. “Dude, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Local 420 Vice President Kevin Seifert said there’s no question drugs are coming in through the legal mail system. One problem is anyone can print off a legal label and put it on an envelope.  Drugs are also coming in through books – with drugs soaked into paper and bindings.

Seifert also said there’s a clear pattern of drug finds increasing since the previous warden left.

To try to combat the problem, Tarovisky said he’s working with multiple lawmakers, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Sen. Joe Manchin and Congressman David B. McKinley.

Mckinley said, “The recent incident that took place at Hazelton is a reminder of the dangerous conditions corrections officers face every day. Hazelton is known as one of the most dangerous prisons in the country and staffing shortages have made it even worse. Over the years, we’ve worked with the corrections officers to hold the Bureau of Prisons accountable and taken steps to improve staffing, reduce contraband and drugs and improve safety and will continue to fight for them.” 

He wished the officer a speedy recovery and said officers risk their lives every day and “we need to do everything we can to ensure they return to their families safely at the end of their shift.”

McKinley is the lead sponsor on the Contraband Elimination and Safety Act of 2021, which would direct the Bureau of Prisons to establish a pilot program to screen mail and packages for contraband at an offsite secure facility before the mail and packages arrive at a federal prison facility.

The bill was introduced in October 2021, but has not become law.

Tarovisky said while they suspect the officer was exposed to amphetamines they are still waiting on lab results.

He’s been told the warden is taking this seriously. 

“They’re actually going to be getting this stuff tested and figuring out exactly the process of how it got in and how it affected our staff,” Tarovisky said.

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