CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is continuing its attempts to stay a step ahead of those who send illegal contraband, mainly drugs, into the state’s prisons and regional jails.

The department recently began using a continuously changing alphanumeric code on mail between attorneys and their clients, department Deputy Secretary Larry Messina said.


Lawrence Messina

“Every business day there’s a new code that goes out (to lawyers) and if mail that appears to be legal mail doesn’t have the proper code it’s flagged,” Messina said.

The coding system was developed by the state Public Defender Services which represents many of the state’s more than 7,000 inmates.

“I was extremely impressed that the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety reached out to our agency because of their concern that the constitutional rights of persons within their custody needed to be considered in the effort to stop the flow of drugs into the correctional facilities,” Executive Director Dana Eddy of the Public Defender Services said in a Monday news release. “This sensitivity to maintaining the confidentiality of the communications to and from legal counsel made the final solution a collaborative and holistic effort.

Most of drugs have been coming in fake legal correspondence, Messina said.

“Stationary was stolen from law offices. Stationary was manufactured by using a computer and a printer. The names of law firms were invented,” he said.

Jail officials generally are not allowed to open mail between an inmate and his attorney unless there’s suspicion. The inmate has to be there if the mail is opened. The corrections system has already been checking personal mail of inmates by opening it and giving them copies of the correspondence.

Some drugs are reduced to liquid form and applied to letters, envelopes and photographs, Messina said.

“It’s almost like Scotch tape–strips of Suboxone all over mail. Behind the label of the envelope, hidden on the back side of a letter,” Messina said.

Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety Jeff Sandy said the state will not give up its fight against illegal drugs.

“This new project is also beneficial for the West Virginia Bar, because no law firm wants their firm’s letterhead, envelopes, return address labels, or logo used or counterfeited to introduce illegal drugs into West Virginia correctional facilities,” Sandy said.

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