Alaska proposes copying prisoner mail to stop drug smuggling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska prison officials have proposed giving inmates copies of their incoming mail rather than originals to crack down on smuggling, officials said.

The state Department of Corrections asked lawmakers to approve a $400,000 budget increase for the program, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Thursday.

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All inmate mail except confidential letters from attorneys is already opened by prison staff. But that method of intercepting incoming contraband is not completely successful, Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom said.

"Let me just say that people can be very, very creative with mail, and with bringing contraband into the facility," Dahlstrom said Wednesday.

Four department employees would copy more than 908,000 pages of inmate mail annually under the program, officials said.

Dahlstrom acknowledged there may be sentimental value in allowing inmates to receive original versions of their mail.

"But our job is to keep folks safe there," she said. "I think that communication being copied is sufficient."

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has adopted the practice of copying mail at some federal corrections facilities.

Pennsylvania adopted a similar policy last year to block illegal drugs such as synthetic marijuana from entering prisons. But the state faced legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and others saying that allowing prison guards to open inmate mail failed to guarantee the confidentiality of communications with attorneys.

Alaska corrections officials believe they can avoid Pennsylvania’s legal problems, Dahlstrom said, but she declined to share details before lawmakers approve the program.

The ACLU of Alaska will ask lawmakers to reject the proposal, spokeswoman Megan Edge said.

"This is not only costly but it’s intrusive," Edge said. "Given the known legal issues, we are hopeful the Legislature will correct this proposed unconstitutional use of state dollars."

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Information from: KSKA-FM, http://www.kska.org

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