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Pilot program for prison mail raises civil rights concerns

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Posted at 1:06 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 14:06:38-04

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has launched a pilot program for mail handling at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility that aims to stem rising drug use by inmates at facilities.

The program, which has alarmed civil rights advocates, involves scanning incoming mail and passing along only copies to inmates. The originals are destroyed.

Corrections officials contend there have been increased cases of the synthetic drug K2 being soaked into sheets of paper and sent into prisons via the mail, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Kansas plans to expand the process throughout its prison system, if it proves successful at Ellsworth.

Criminal justice reform activists and legal advocates worry about privacy concerns. They also argue the power of holding a hand-drawn card from your child shouldn't be underestimated.

Kansas had six deaths from drugs or alcohol in its prisons between 2001 and 2018. The number of inmates found in "altered states of consciousness" have nearly tripled in the past three years and are projected to exceed 1,200 by the end of this year, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

The state plans to use existing prison mailroom employees to handle the process, said corrections spokesman Randall Bowman. Legal mail, which is subject to attorney-client privilege, is opened in the presence of residents and isn't read by staff.

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