New York Daily News, October 25, 2022
Correction Department staffers aren’t scanned for contraband when they go to work at Rikers Island and other lockup — and City Council members asked Tuesday if that has something to do with a series of fatal drug overdoses in the jails over the last two years.
Nine of the 33 deaths in the jails since Jan. 1 2021 — including five in 2022 — have been attributed to drug overdoses, according to figures cited by the council. There was just one overdose death in the jails between 2017 and 2020, the council said.
Between January 2021 and June 2022, there were at least 431 non-fatal overdoses or suspected overdoses in city jails, Correctional Health Services figures show.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina attributed the rise in jail overdoses to fentanyl-soaked packages and letters coming in through the mail and simply reflect the national increase in overdoses.
“Fentanyl can be found mixed in nasal sprays and eye drops, soaked onto paper and small candies,” Molina said. “It enters in letters and packages laced in fentanyl.”
Molina said the Correction Department has seized a fentanyl-laced children’s drawing, a love letter, a prayer schedule and a t-shirt.
Molina said mail searches have seized drugs 126 times this year, while about 1,000 items of narcotics and paraphernalia have been found in searches in jail housing areas. Drugs have been found on visitors 56 times this year, he said
But City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan) suggested the amount of illicit drugs correction officers find in the mails or on visitors does not line up with what is found in searches of housing areas.
Rivera noted there were twice as many reports of drugs being seized in the jails when visitors were banned during the pandemic period of April 2020 to May 2021 than before.
“This spike in drugs cannot be accurately attributed to the mail,” Rivera said.
Molina acknowledged that while visitors go through body scanning devices, which check for hidden items carried inside clothing, civilian and uniformed staff do not get body scanned.
Molina said staff does not go through body scanning because of the “antiquated” layout of the places where staff enter the jails, and the cost.
“If you can do it for visitors, I don’t see how you can’t do it for staff as well considering how urgent and troubling this entire situation is,” Rivera responded.