Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


By Changing Visitation Rules, Prison Officials Go Overboard in Trying 
to Contain Drug Smuggling.

PRISONS AND jails are struggling to contain the spread of an easily 
smuggled drug, Suboxone, prized by incarcerated addicts to dampen 
their craving for heroin and other hard-to-get opioids. But in trying 
to keep it out of facilities, some corrections officials are going 
overboard, imposing restrictions that punish the families and 
children of inmates, most of whom are blameless.

That is what has occurred in Maryland, where, in an effort to block 
Suboxone and other contraband, state prison authorities established a 
policy that prevents inmates from prolonged holding or cuddling even 
their small children and babies. The policy, in effect since last 
fall, is draconian and cruel: It applies equally to fathers, mothers 
and even grandmothers behind bars, including one who wrote a moving 
piece in The Post's Outlook section this month, pleading for more 
time to hold her baby granddaughter.

The challenge posed by Suboxone is that it is maddeningly easy to 
conceal and convey as contraband. It comes in the form of pills that 
can be crushed and ingested or wafer-thin strips that can be hidden 
in the pages of a notebook, a deck of cards - even behind a postage 
stamp on a letter.

Prison administrators are right that Suboxone poses a real problem. 
Although it provides a milder high than heroin, its presence in penal 
institutions, like that of any banned substance, can spur drug 
dealing and violence.

The trouble is that the policy they have devised is overkill, and 
there is little indication it works. It forbids inmates from physical 
contact with their loved ones until the end of a visit, and then 
permits only a brief embrace. That may make some sense for adult 
visitors; for small children, who need physical affection from 
parents and grandparents, it is callous.

There is also little indication it is effective. Prison authorities 
have no data - none - showing that children have been frequently used 
to convey contraband. What's more, seizures of Suboxone and other 
illicit drugs conveyed by visitors dropped just 16 percent in the 
first seven months of this year compared with the same period last 
year. That suggests the impact of the restrictions, imposed Nov. 30, 
is marginal at best.

In large part, the policy was driven by a scandal at the Baltimore 
city jail three years ago, in which inmates had effectively taken 
charge of the facility, procuring all manner of contraband, including 
drugs and cellphones, in copious quantities. But in that case, the 
contraband was conveyed not by visitors but by jail guards, including 
women who were having sex with prisoners.

Societies are fairly judged by how they treat those they have 
condemned. Correctional institutions are not, and should not be, 
summer camps, but they are wise to strike a balance between the need 
for effective security and control, and the value of compassion and 
humanity in promoting rehabilitation. In Maryland, officials have 
gotten the balance wrong by denying small children and inmates, 
including mothers, the opportunity of engaging in more than fleeting 
moments of physical affection.
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