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Regional jail inmates barred from touching visitors

By Travis Crum, Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Inmates in the state’s regional jails may no longer touch their loved ones during supervised contact visits in what administrators hope is a temporary solution to stop the spread of drug contraband.

State Regional Jail Authority Executive Director Joe DeLong issued a directive last week banning inmates from hugging, kissing or shaking hands with loved ones at the beginning and end of contact visits. Children are also no longer allowed to sit with inmates.

DeLong said jail administrators have pinpointed these visits as the primary way that drugs are smuggled into the state’s 10 regional jails.

Administrators met last week and expressed concern about the spread of Suboxone, which is prescribed to ease the cravings and kill withdrawal symptoms of opiate addicts who are hooked on painkillers, such as OxyContin, as well as heroin. Suboxone can be prescribed as thin strips, which is easily passed and then concealed during a pat-down search, DeLong said.

DeLong said his directive is a temporary solution and he has appointed a committee to look at the issue. The committee, made up of the regional jails’ chief of operations and his deputies, will determine if ending touching during contact visits is the proper solution.

“I’m a firm believer that you cannot rehabilitate someone on a drug-related crime if they find a way to get drugs inside that facility,” he said.

DeLong said he did not want to ban contact visits all together because it’s important for inmates to still be in the same room with their loved ones.

There are regular visits, in which an inmate is separated from visitors by a glass window, and contact visits, which are granted to privileged inmates. Contact visits are supervised by correctional officers, and inmates are seated several feet away from visitors at a table. Inmates are escorted to the visit and then patted down afterward.

Even though the visits are supervised, DeLong said, people still find ways to smuggle drugs into the jails. One jail administrator told of a visitor who hid drugs inside a baby’s diaper that was then passed to an inmate holding the baby.

“Unfortunately, these visits are being significantly abused,” he said.

The regional jails are in the process of installing cameras, which they previously did not have. DeLong hopes to have cameras in all the state’s jails by the end of the year. The cameras could be the permanent tool to stop to the spread of contraband, he said. There have been fewer incidents and complaints filed against correctional officers at facilities already outfitted with the cameras, he said. The directive has no impact on attorney visitation.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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