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Ohio prisons step up fight against flow of contraband

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — From X-ray body scanners to anti-drone technology, the state is ramping up efforts to keep contraband out of Ohio prisons as drugs and other illicit goods flood inside, even when visitation was curbed during the pandemic.

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The anti-contraband measures are aimed at anyone who enters prisons, whether inmates returning from an outside assignment, visitors or staff members, said Annette Chambers-Smith, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

“Every time we solve one thing we have to build a better mouse-trap for the next thing,” Chambers-Smith told The Associated Press.

The scope of the problem was underscored last month when federal authorities announced the arrest of a South African woman on suspicion of helping smuggle hundreds of sheets of drug-soaked paper into at least five Ohio prisons. The woman is accused of soaking papers in legal correspondence, which is exempt from normal inspection routines.

The state said it conducted about 1,000 drug seizures a month in state prisons from March through September 2020. Numbers slowly decreased through 2021 and now average just under 500 a month, according to state data.

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Among recent initiatives by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction:

— Installing 15 X-ray body scanners, one per prison, at an initial cost of $1.7 million per machine, paid for by federal CARES Act dollars, with a plan to implement them in all 28 prisons by year’s end. The machines can detect items such as cell phones, drugs, tobacco and weapons.

— Purchasing nine anti-drone detection systems covering 16 of 28 prisons at an annual cost of $1.5 million. Some of the systems cover more than one prison.

— Piloting the use of two hand-held laser scanners costing a total of $48,500 that can identify a substance, and installing more exterior fences meant to stop “fence throws,” or people tossing contraband over the security fences.

— Digitizing all incoming inmate mail other than legal mail, a program announced last year but still not implemented. The program, with a $22.7 million annual cost, is now expected this summer. Its goal: stopping the practice of outsiders sending inmates paper soaked with synthetic narcotics such as K2. In the interim, the state photocopies all mail except legal correspondence.

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— Partnering with the state patrol to create a tip phone line and email address for an initiative dubbed “Know Something? Tell us,” that offers possible rewards for reports of contraband.

Inmates interviewed by the AP say the current drugs of choice are strips of suboxone, a drug that can be used to reduce dependence on opioids, and K2 — or “tune” as it’s known on the inside.

Ohio prisons ramping up fight against flow of contraband  The Associated Press – en Español

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