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Crime & Courts

Dunleavy budget plan includes $400,000 to photocopy mail sent to Alaska prisoners to stop drugs

Spring Creek Correctional Center outside Seward, 2016. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget calls for spending more than $400,000 to photocopy personal mail sent to inmates, under the theory that giving prisoners copies instead of originals would stymie the flow of drugs into prisons.

New budget documents released Wednesday call for a $417,000 increase to the Department of Corrections that would be used for four new office assistant positions to handle the massive photocopying job, estimated at 908,645 pages per year.

“Incoming inmate mail is a regular source of contraband,” the budget appropriation note reads. “While all mail, except privileged attorney mail, is already opened by prison staff, contraband still gets into the facility through the mail. “

“The best way to combat this problem is to photocopy incoming inmate mail and only distribute the copies,” the note says.

Two of the assistants would be located at Goose Creek Correctional Center, one in Anchorage and one in Juneau, according to the budget note.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to questions about the plan.

The ACLU of Alaska quickly said it would fight the photocopying plan.

“This is not only costly, but it’s intrusive,” said Megan Edge, a spokeswoman for the ACLU. “Given the known legal issues, we hope that the Legislature corrects this unconstitutional proposed use of state dollars.”

The idea of restricting prisoners to copies of personal mail has gained traction around the country as a way to stop sneaky methods of getting drugs into jails, including soaking paper in liquid drugs such as ecstasy, heroin and fentanyl, as one South Florida drug trafficking organization was caught doing.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has started photocopying mail at some institutions over fears of synthetic drug contamination, The Associated Press reported in October.

West Virginia regional jails also photocopy inmate mail — and destroy the originals.

Some states have outsourced the photocopying of prisoner mail to private corporations, such as Smart Communications, a Florida firm that scans and stores the mail of inmates in Pennsylvania.

The inmates receive printed copies of the scans, which some have said are low-quality and not as personal as original paper mail.