Correctional officers across the state, including here in the North Country, say they are once again facing an influx of illegal and harmful drugs being creatively hidden and smuggled into prisons through care packages sent to prisoners.
Now, for inmate and their own safety, they are calling for the reinstatement of a short-lived program they say helps control what gets into these facilities.
What You Need To Know
- NYS CO's say they are finding far too many drugs 'creatively' hidden in care packages
- Secure Vendor Package Program eliminates families/friends ability to send packages in favor of approved vendors
- Program was approved in late 2017, but Governor Andrew Cuomo ended it shortly after it began.
Between instances of violence and overdoses -- those working inside state prisons have been pushing for changes for years. During searches of care packages sent to inmates, correctional officers tell us they keep finding drugs and other contraband hidden in what they say are far too creative ways, especially for facilities already battling limited resources.
About two and a half years ago, the state approved a program that eliminated those care packages for an online vendor service, where people could order items for an inmate and the vendor would ship them.
The Secure Vendor Package Program was exactly the solution the CO's wanted.
"The security protocols that would be put into place, would prevent any introduction or fabrication of a product coming in that would contain any contraband," NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said.
However, with one tweet from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the program ended almost as soon as it began.
In early 2018, people and organizations supporting the rights of prisoners, claimed those vendors were price gouging and the limited selections restricted access to fresh foods and items like used books that not only were needed for rehabilitation, but would otherwise be free.
"The restrictions on our clients are so severe that it is very hard to see the purpose," Sophia Heller, the Prisoner's Legal Services of New York Managing Attorney said back in 2018, when the program was in its pilot stage.
However, Powers says those accusations were wrong then and are still wrong today. He says inmates did and would have most every option available a family or friend could provide and pricing could be solved with discussion.
He says the drug problem, now in 2020, isn't going away and it is making it impossible for inmates to kick addiction and the violence is only getting worse. He, joined by those he represents, are calling for the program to be reinstated.
"It would, it would very much assist in reducing the violence and making it a safer work environment for staff, inmates and civilian staff," Powers said.
Powers says he will keep pushing Albany to reconsider. Meanwhile, the inmate advocacy organizations will keep up their fight as well.