The Virginia Department of Corrections is changing prison visitation policies in response to a growing number of heroin overdoses.Since 2015, nine inmates in Virginia prisons have died from heroin or fentanyl overdoses. Last year, prison guards caught 31 visitors trying to bring drugs into prisons. In the first three months of 2017, there have been eight additional drug contraband incidents, which has been a continuous issue. So, in order to combat this problem, the Virginia Department of Corrections is taking a peculiar step: they are changing their underwear policy. Starting on April 22, male inmates in at least 25 of the state's 37 prisons will be forced to change their underwear before and after prison visits from friends and family. Before being allowed into the visitation room, inmates will have to put on state-issued underwear, socks, shoes and jumpsuits. To prevent contraband from being smuggled into the prison, the jumpsuits will zip-up from behind. Once the visit is over, inmates will remove the visitation clothing and undergo a second strip search before being allowed back into their everyday attire. While the underwear policy will not apply to female inmates, they will also be required to wear rear-zipping jumpsuits during prison visits.
The Virginia Department of Corrections is also implementing a new mail policy in order to crack down on drug smuggling. Previously, the state's prisons followed the "one stamp rule," meaning that letters had to be below the maximum weight covered by a single stamp. Traditionally, this has limited correspondences to just six sheets of paper.
Prison policy already allows for prisoner mail to be opened and inspected by prison guards before being forwarded to inmates. During these searches, they have discovered drugs hidden in strips – similar to breath strips – attached to envelopes and postcards. To combat these new techniques, letters to inmates will only be allowed to contain six items each, regardless of size, and the envelope counts as one. Correspondences will be forwarded to inmates as photocopies, with the original letters shredded.
Legal mail and documents pertaining to inmates' court cases will remain off-limits for guards to inspect. Additionally, inmates will be able to continue to receive magazines and periodicals they have purchased.
This policy change is just another reminder that the heroin and opioid epidemic facing Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region is far reaching.