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Contraband drugs in WV jails called epidemic

CLARKSBURG — Contraband drugs in West Virginia jails and correctional facilities have become an epidemic the state struggles to control, said state and county officials.

“Criminals can get whatever drugs they want in these jails,” said Tom Dyer, Harrison County defense attorney. “I could go to North Central Regional Jail right now and pick up 15 different drugs. It’s beyond a problem; it’s an epidemic. Drugs are currency on the inside. It used to be cigarettes.”

According to Dyer, drug testing of criminals “wouldn’t serve any purpose.”

“What would you do if you found them using, add a few years to their sentence? That would be throwing away good money after bad,” he said.

State Policeman Sgt. Mark Kiddy agreed that the drug problem is picking up in the jails, and said “a lot can be done about the problem, but no one is going to do it.”

“Ninety percent of the problems we have to take care of on a weekly basis at the Salem Correctional Facility has to do with drug contraband. It’s mostly marijuana and synthetic marijuana,” Kiddy said.

“We need to have mandatory searches, more correctional officers and need to cut down on visitations. But manpower is down in jails across the state. At the State Police Detachment at Bridgeport, we used to have 15 troopers and now have seven,” he said.

Taylor County Prosecutor John Bord said he has heard that drugs are a problem in state jails, but not at regional jails.

“We’re constantly hearing about contraband drugs at Pruntytown Correctional Center, but I haven’t heard any complaints at the regional jails,” Bord said. “At the state jail with minimum security, drugs are dumped in garbage cans off site, in flower beds on site, they’re mailed in, and we’ve even had inmates while on work detail with the state have individuals drop off drugs for them, anyone from mothers, sisters and girlfriends bring them drugs.”

Joe Thornton, head of Division of Corrections at the State Department of Public Safety and Military Affairs, said, “West Virginia’s regional jail system and its Division of Corrections, which operates the state’s prisons, each have a zero-tolerance stance toward contraband through their respective policies and procedures.”

Lawrence Messina, assistant secretary, W.Va. Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said, “The regional jails and Corrections use policies and procedures that include strip searches of inmates during intake and transfer, a standard for permitting more invasive searches when circumstances warrant, searches of cells and common areas and screenings during visitations.”

“As a specific example of how seriously our agencies target contraband, the regional jail system recently ended the practice of contact visitation at all 10 regional jails,” Messina said. “Officials took this step after discovering visitors were passing along contraband through such means as kisses and in the diapers of infants.”

“The Division of Corrections maintains contact visitations because of the positive effect they have on the behavior and rehabilitation of inmates serving longer sentences,” Messina said. “The prisons employ a thorough system of searches, monitoring and screenings as a result.”

Staff writer Lisa Troshinsky can be reached at (304) 626-1445 or at [email protected]

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