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Tech aiding contraband detection, COVID protection at Pa. prison

Converting postal mail into electronic communications is proving a lifesaver for Butler County Prison

By Corrections1 Staff

Contraband entering facilities through postal mail is a daily threat in corrections. The situation became so dangerous at Butler County Prison in Pennsylvania that facility personnel were taken to the emergency room after being exposed to an illegal drug as a result of a search within the cell of an incarcerated resident.

In looking for a solution to the problem, leaders at Butler County Prison turned to Securus Technologies’ Digital Mail Center, which converts postal mail into electronic communications.

How the tech works

Securus’ certified investigative staff open, scan and electronically upload incarcerated individual’s mail to the Securus mail management portal.

Here, the mail is configured to be reviewed and approved by agency staff or automatically delivered to incarcerated individuals through Securus ConnectUs terminals and Securus tablets. This automation frees personnel from the process of handling incarcerated individual mail so that they can focus on their primary duties.

”Now that we use Digital Mail Center, our people are safer,” said Warden Joe DeMore, CJM, CCE. “Digital Mail Center is absolutely the best thing we’ve done as far as security in relation to mail. It took away the risks of our employees opening and handling mail with contraband that could cause harm. It also lowers the high risk of getting illegal substances in the hands of inmates where they can possibly overdose.”

Prior to receiving Digital Mail Center, K2 was getting into the jail through postal mail. In one example, a loved one pretended to be an attorney by typing what appeared to be a legitimate address for a lawyer’s office in hopes that this package would not be searched. However, through listening to phone recordings with its Securus call platform, officers caught on and found Suboxone hidden between layers of paper, which led to charges for one incarcerated individual and the person sending the Suboxone through the fake attorney mail.

Additionally, now that the facility has Digital Mail Center, attorney mail and publications are the only physical mail delivered to the jail. Officers check with attorney offices to verify that they have sent pieces of mail.

Controlling COVID

Keeping up with the latest solutions in corrections is important to DeMore, especially during COVID. The facility shut down in-person visits in mid-March, and remarkably no incarcerated individuals have tested positive for the contagion at this writing. However, five staff members have come down with COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. The strategy to preventing the spread of this virus is 24/7 disinfecting including three high-level cleaning Kavaic machines that look like Zambonis used to resurface the ice during hockey games.

The facility offers PPE training and has medical providers give presentations in town halls to educate staff and incarcerated residents about health precautions. Thermal temperature scanners in the front lobby with digital cameras make sure that anyone entering the facility is not running a fever. Another digital tool that is helping the spread of COVID is Securus Video Connect.

“Video Connect has helped tremendously by cutting down on traffic with people coming in and out of our jail and possibly bringing the virus into our facility,” DeMore explained. “With Video Connect, incarcerated individuals can still see loved ones. This tool helps inmates who are nervous and stressed about COVID since they are still able to see their people.”

Securus has provided complimentary video session coupons for incarcerated individuals. Jail staff especially likes giving them to the incarcerated residents who keep the jail clean.

“Those inmates have done a tremendous job cleaning so we like to reward them. It definitely helps when they can see their families,” DeMore added who explains how difficult it can be for incarcerated residents when they are not informed of how their families are doing during the pandemic.

DeMore emphasizes that when they do not see their loved ones, it increases their stress level, which then causes problems for the staff: “I think that the relationships staying active and connected is vital and provide a smoother transition when they’re getting released.”