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Toomey, Casey Lead PA Delegation Letter to Improve Safety at Federal Prisons

August 21, 2019
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Philadelphia, Pa. - U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) led several members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation in asking the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to curb the flow of dangerous drugs into federal prisons through the mail. In July and August, multiple correctional officers at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Wayne County, Pennsylvania were temporarily hospitalized after being exposed to synthetic drugs smuggled into the prison.

In a letter to BOP Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the delegation urges the BOP to enact new procedures for processing mail sent to federal prisons, including implementing a pilot program to process mail at an off-site facility like the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections does.

"As the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has acknowledged, these drugs pose a threat to the safety of BOP staff and inmates. They have harmed staff exposed to them, incited prison violence, and caused inmate overdoses. We urge you to adopt new measures to prevent the introduction of synthetic drugs into federal prisons through the mail in order to protect BOP staff and inmates," the delegation wrote in a letter to BOP Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer.

U.S. Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.-8), Fred Keller (R-Pa.-12), Dan Meuser (R-Pa.-9), and G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.-15), joined Senators Toomey and Casey in sending the letter. All of these congressmen have federal prisons in their districts. Pennsylvania is home to seven federally operated prison facilities and thousands of federal correctional officers.

The full text of the letter is included below.

August 21, 2019


Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer
Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street NW
Washington, DC 20534

Dear Director Sawyer,

We write to express our concerns about the serious problem of synthetic drugs being smuggled into federal prisons through the mail. As the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has acknowledged, these drugs pose a threat to the safety of BOP staff and inmates. They have harmed staff exposed to them, incited prison violence, and caused inmate overdoses. We urge you to adopt new measures to prevent the introduction of synthetic drugs into federal prisons through the mail in order to protect BOP staff and inmates.

Recently, multiple BOP correctional officers at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan ("USP Canaan") in Pennsylvania were sickened and temporarily hospitalized after being exposed to synthetic drugs that we understand were smuggled into the prison through the mail. This problem is not limited to USP Canaan. The introduction of drugs into prisons through the mail is happening throughout the country. For instance, earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh charged numerous defendants with running a multi-state drug trafficking ring that smuggled drugs into federal prisons by mailing paper saturated in synthetic drugs to inmates. In some cases, this mail was falsely labeled as legal correspondence from inmates' attorneys to ensure that inmates received it. Similarly, in August 2018, over a three-week period, more than 30 staff members at multiple state prisons in Pennsylvania were sickened by mail that had been soaked in synthetic drugs.

In response to this problem, last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("PADOC") took decisive action to prevent the introduction of synthetic drugs into Pennsylvania's state prisons through the mail by creating a new mail system. Under this system, incoming mail, with limited exceptions, is no longer sent to and opened at prisons and prisoners no longer receive original hardcopies of their mail. Instead, mail is sent to an off-site facility where it is opened, scanned, and emailed to prisons. PADOC has reported that this new mail system has been extremely effective in stopping drugs from being smuggled into its prisons through the mail.

We urge the BOP to follow Pennsylvania's lead by implementing a pilot program to process all mail at an off-site facility that will open, scan, and electronically provide mail to prisons. While this pilot program is being implemented, we also urge BOP to adopt procedures to prevent fake legal correspondence from being used to smuggle drugs into prisons, which we understand is a serious problem.

PADOC has effective procedures for blocking fake legal correspondence that the BOP could use as a model. In Pennsylvania, legal correspondence is still sent directly to prisons. However, legal correspondence must be sent in an envelope labeled with information that authenticates that the sender is an inmate's attorney. This information consists of a unique attorney control number that an inmate's attorney must obtain from PADOC and a secondary authentication number that PADOC changes on a weekly basis and provides to the attorney.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response and to working with you to enhance the safety of BOP staff and inmates.