Crimes dealing with narcotics and stealing a person’s personal information continue to plague our communities. Prisons are no exception to this illegal activity. While incarcerated individuals serve their sentences, some continue to run criminal enterprises. While local law enforcement fights crime on the outside, Erie County Prison in Pennsylvania is one of the many correctional facilities around our nation combatting illegality on the inside.
The opioid crisis serves as an example of one challenge that not only afflicts our cities but our prisons as well. Erie County Prison has an Average Daily Population of 679 and is privy to the minds of those who plot intricate plans to smuggle drugs into correctional facilities. For example, what looks like an innocent greeting card may actually be loaded with drugs.
That is exactly what was happening in Erie County where incarcerated individuals were getting illegal substances in the mail.
“Inmates were getting high. Drug tests were administered, and the results did not come back clean,” said Deputy Warden of Operations Michael Holman of the Erie County Department of Corrections (ECDOC).
Investigations uncovered that Suboxone was being smuggled within layers of greeting cards.
“Inmates’ friends and family have tried to sneak drugs into cards by making a slit to hide Suboxone film in between layers of paper,” added Holman.
When used properly, Suboxone in film form can help users with opiate addiction. Unfortunately, according to American Addiction Centers, this drug can also create an opioid-like high, which may be long-lasting.
In order to help prevent contraband from sneaking into their prison, facility leaders turned to Securus Technologies®. Erie County Prison has been a Securus Technologies customer since 2008 and relies on a suite of solutions to increase safety and security. To combat the challenge of mail containing contraband, the prison uses Securus Technologies Digital Mail Center (DMC), which offers incarcerated individuals’ mail on Securus tablets as well as video kiosks. These tools help eliminate smuggled goods and remove manual mail sorting.
“Now that officers don’t have to open and search mail, they can assist in other jail functions,” stated Holman.
The deputy warden who has been with the prison for 25 years, lists other challenges like incarcerated individual-to-incarcerated individual illegal communications and PIN theft that his facility struggled with prior to using Securus Technologies products.
“Inmates want to stay off the radar, so they jump on another inmate’s PIN and think the facility won’t be able to find out, but we can,” Holman states.
Erie County has a unique challenge. There is a state prison in the same county, as well as a nearby state women’s prison, where those incarcerated at each facility attempt to use technology to talk to one another.
However, when it comes to these calls, Holman said, “ICER catches them.”
Securus Technologies equips Erie County with this powerful digital tool to combat this problem. ICER, the Inmate Intercommunication Evaluation and Reporting system, is focused on incarcerated individual inter-communications. The system automatically logs every incarcerated individual call and sends email alerts to investigators. ICER is installed at over 1,200 Securus facilities across the country.
“ICER distinguishes the background of talking to someone else,” Holman stated. “ICER also helps us uncover 3-way calling and when they hold two cell phones together.”
Holman adds that in the last month, ICER has given his agency ten notifications of incarcerated individual-to-incarcerated individual calls, many being to other jails.
PIN theft is another problem regarding calls at the facility. According to Holman, some incarcerated individuals are selling or gambling off their PINs while some are stealing them to get others’ call time.
“We get requests from inmates for us to change their PINs, and then our facility looks into it,” Holman added.
Holman states that PIN theft also occurs when an incarcerated individual closely watches another enter the PIN. He adds that Investigator Pro™ (IPRO) provides his agency with powerful data that his staff submits to the DA’s office to help build a strong case against those who have stolen the PINs.
Securus Technologies’ IPRO identifies incarcerated individuals by name throughout a call, no matter how many persons are on the call or whose PIN is used. This powerful voice biometrics software acts as a lead generator to narrow the investigator’s search for clues, reducing the time needed listening to incarcerated individual conversations.
While Erie County is interested in tools that aid in the elimination of illegal activity, the facility is also focused on rehabilitation. Prior to COVID, the prison conducted classes in a high school for juveniles who could work towards their high school diplomas. The instructor used the Securus Technologies tablet program, which provides programs to improve incarcerated individuals’ behavior as well as prepare them for reentry. Erie County is hoping to resume the classes after the pandemic.
“Inmates really enjoy the law library and education features as well as the assignments,” added Holman.
Another way to help incarcerated individuals have a positive outlook on their future is to stay in touch with family and friends. Studies show a link between incarcerated individuals maintaining relationships with their loved ones, while incarcerated, reduces recidivism.
The prison uses Securus Video ConnectSM. This system allows family and friends to schedule a video conversation with their incarcerated loved ones from anywhere with Internet access using a smartphone, tablet or PC. Holman says Securus Video ConnectSM makes it easier for his incarcerated residents to get in contact with loved ones, especially those that are at least six hours away.
“Video Connect benefits our inmates from Canada, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and even Federal and ICE detainees. Inmates tell me they like it, and family and friends are pretty excited about it,” Holman explained.
During COVID, Holman says Securus has been offering his agency, free communications each week so that the incarcerated residents can keep in touch with loved ones.
“It’s been huge to allow someone to connect to the outside. It’s been a lifesaver,” he concluded.