CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is pledging to get drugs out of West Virginia’s prisons and regional jail systems — an issue that he has found to be widespread, “all through our correctional system.”
“It is disgraceful — disgraceful — and we are going to do something about it,” Jeff Sandy said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” which originated from the State Capitol where the 2017 Regular Legislative Session continued.
At parole hearings in West Virginia, Sandy reported half of potential parolees have reported using drugs within the three previous weeks while incarcerated.
Since Feb. 1, Sandy confirmed 35 inmates at the Pruntytown Correctional Center in Taylor County, a minimum security facility, had some type of drug overdose on site and 14 of them were sent for drug overdose treatment at Grafton City Hospital.
Sandy said the belief at Pruntytown is that most of the drugs used on site had been picked up outside of the facility.
Due to its minimum security nature, “Many of those people went out on road cleanup duties,” Sandy explained.
There is also a cemetery and a major road in Route 250 located nearby which, he said, could be adding to the apparent steady drug supply.
Due to current record keeping methods, Sandy could not name the specific drugs involved in the overdoses.
Steps were already being taken to address that reporting issue, according to the DMAPS secretary who officially took over on Jan. 16 under Governor Jim Justice.
For Sandy, the issue is about a fundamental question: “How can we make people better citizens when they get released from prison if they are allowed to use illegal controlled substances while they are there?”
A former sheriff and federal agent, Sandy has sought information in recent weeks from those he’s put in jail or prison.
“One individual who was released three weeks ago advised me he was in five different of our prison systems and he could obtain drugs 24 hours a day,” Sandy said.
In higher security sites, drugs could be getting into the jail and prison facilities in any number of ways, including deliveries via vendors or others with access. The mail is a concern as well.
On March 6, a new policy was implemented in West Virginia’s regional jails prohibiting inmates from receiving original envelopes with their mail due to drug transport concerns. Instead, photocopies have been provided.
In state prisons, Sandy estimated 70 percent of drugs arrived via mail.
“If there is a will, there is a way and we need to stay on top of that and find those ways,” Sandy said.
As he settles into his no role, Sandy’s priorities are officer safety and drugs in correctional facilities with an additional focus on transparency about conditions in prisons and regional jails, including the prevalence of drugs.
“It embarrasses me and what embarrasses me is there was not transparency in the past,” Sandy told Hoppy Kercheval.
“Every time you ask us something for the next 48 months, you’re going to get an answer. It may not be the answer we want to tell you, but it’s going to be the straight answer.”