OC Sheriff Bans Cardstock Mail for Jail Inmates

Mmm… mail. Photo courtesy OCSD

There’s no question that mail is of vital importance to anyone who’s incarcerated. Communication with the world outside the prison walls can bring both legal information, family updates, as well as much-needed distractions from the mind-numbing nature of life inside.

Next month, inmates at all Orange County jail facilities will have to deal with new restrictions on their mail, according to a July 2 Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) news release. Specifically, the jail will no longer accept any correspondence written on cardstock and/or colored paper. Starting Aug. 1, the only acceptable mail for inmates will be on postcards, lined white paper, or plain white paper that’s not cardstock.

The reason is, as you might expect, drugs. OCSD Public Information Officer Carrie Braun explained it this way in her news release:

The decision to add cardstock, greeting cards, and colored paper to the list of unacceptable items received in the mail to OCJ inmates is intended to further protect inmates and Orange County Sheriff’s Department custody staff from exposure to drug-laced mail. In 2019 alone, custody canines have alerted to 147 greeting cards containing narcotics mailed to OCJ inmates, with the majority of the cards soaked in methamphetamine. Additionally, 35 individuals being booked into jail from January 1- March 31, 2019, have attempted to enter OCJ with narcotics concealed on or in their person.  These concealed narcotics consisted of fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or prescription medications.

“This is an issue of safety and security,” said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes in the news release. “We take seriously our charge to provide protection for the inmates in our care, and decreasing contraband and access to it will make our jails safer for inmates, staff and visitors.”

While all this might sound a bit odd, there are recent examples of other jails dealing with drug-laced mail. In February 2018, the Humboldt County Correctional Facility enacted a policy similar to Orange County’s after “seeing an increase in attempts to send narcotics into the jail by soaking/contaminating the paper,” said Humboldt County Sheriff’s spokesperson Samantha Karges in the Lost Coast Outpost.

And in 2015, three Broward County Jail inmates were prosecuted on charges of distributing an LSD-like substance through postcards, which were then torn into as many as 250 pieces and then sold for $10 each, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

There are about 6,000 inmates in Orange County jails.

Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.

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