CRESTVIEW — A new security device at the Okaloosa County Jail has drastically reduced the amount of illicit drugs that are smuggled by mail to inmates in the facility.
Jail officials recently began utilizing a “VeroVision Mail Scanner” that scrutinizes each of the roughly 150-200 pieces of mail that arrive at the facility each mail-delivery day for the inmates. As of Wednesday, the jail population totaled 743 inmates.
The scanner, which is set up in a partially-enclosed room in the jail’s visitation area, has detected illegal drugs in more than 40 pieces of mail since the device began being used several weeks ago, said Stefan Vaughn, director of the county Department of Corrections.
Vaughn said the illegal substances that the scanner captures and shows on a computer screen by way of a red dot include cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and Suboxone. The latter substance is meant to treat pain and addiction to narcotics.
Before the scanner was purchased, jail staff would have to hold pieces of mail up to a light, remove stickers and look through the mail, “everything shy of licking and tasting (an illegal drug) to try to prevent it from coming in,” Vaughn said.
The new system “is safer for staff and it’s safer for the individuals we currently have incarcerated in our facility, because it’s less hands-on,” he said.
It’s also much more efficient.
Each scan of mail with the device lasts eight seconds, said Department of Corrections Lt. April McQueen, who herself had discovered illegal drugs in inmates’ mail about two or three times a month with the former manual detection methods.
Some of the illegal drugs that people try to smuggle in are liquefied, she said.
“The scanner identifies things we couldn’t obviously identify,” McQueen said. “The attempted introduction of contraband into the jail has always been a concern for us. It’s a pervasive issue throughout the correctional system.”
The scanner will help quantify the amount of illegal drugs that people try to bring into the jail, and information on those senders will be provided to law-enforcement authorities for criminal prosecution, Vaughn said.
He said the scanner cost about $115,000, but no taxpayer money was used to purchase it. It was paid for with money from inmate benefit funds, which are generated by inmate spending on commissary items such as snacks and hygiene items.
According to Department of Corrections’ information, the only items that may be sent to an inmate in the mail include approved legal material, letters, up to 20 photos (no larger than 4-by-6 inches, and no Polaroids), standard-size cards, money orders and postage stamps.
Mail that is mailed in large envelopes and bubble or padded envelopes will be rejected and returned to the sender unopened, and any item larger than 12-by-15 inches and a quarter-inch thick will be returned.