Prison mail: Drug-laden letters spike at Cook County Sheriff’s Office

Chicago — A new war on drugs inside the Cook County Jail.

People trying to smuggle drugs into facilities is nothing new. But the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is now finding drugs, and the methods used are unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said, “Before the pandemic, it was very traditional what kind of contraband people were looking for and how they were getting it.” increase.

Police are now finding letters, greeting cards and other mail sprayed with pesticides and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

In prison, detainees tear letters and cards to pieces and smoke them to get high.

Since 2019, the prison, which houses more than 6,000 people, has eight confirmed fatal overdoses, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“There are people who go out where they inhale something,” Dart said. “It was literally rat poison.”

Cards are not only a way for people to get high, they are also a way to make money.

Last month, authorities charged 34-year-old Joanna McCrea, a nurse at Stroger Hospital in Cook County, with drug possession. She is accused of trying to smuggle up to 50 sheets of paper reportedly laced with illegal substances to her in-prison boyfriend.

In court filings, officials claim each page may have sold for $1,000.

In such cases, officials say money is traded via mobile payment apps, with outsiders facilitating the process.

“you [greeting] Michael Lucente, head of the Sheriff’s Strategic Intelligence Unit, said: “It’s making money. After selling page after page for so long, you’re bonding.”

The sheriff’s office has stepped up its review process because it is believed that most, if not all, drugs arrive in the mail.

Each parcel and letter is currently being intercepted by K-9, X-rayed, sorted and searched.

Officials say prisons receive an average of more than 20,000 pieces of mail each month. More than half, or about 11,000, have been seized for various reasons, including drug suspicion.

The sheriff’s office recently rolled out a program to put tablets in the hands of more detainees. Commercial-grade screens are available for e-learning and telephony today, and may be extended to include text messaging and video calling in the future.

By providing more channels of communication, it is hoped that people will be less likely to send their cards and letters to prison, reducing the amount of mail that needs screening.

“You can’t eliminate email en masse,” says Dart. “But one of our goals is that tablets will reduce email volume and make it easier to process the emails we receive.” Prison mail: Drug-laden letters spike at Cook County Sheriff’s Office

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