This article originally appeared on PA Post.
For about five months, all mail sent to inmates in Pennsylvania’s state prisons has been routed through a processing facility in Florida, where it is searched and photocopied.
Inmates get the copy. The original is destroyed, though it’s digitally retained for 45 days.
State officials put the policy in place after a spike in drug smuggling last year.
There has since been pushback from inmates’ rights groups and families of incarcerated people. But in an annual budget hearing before the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel reaffirmed the policy is staying put.
The DOC’s hearing comes just days after it settled a lawsuit over a related policy on legal mail. Attorneys for the department agreed to stop photocopying and storing it. So far, the policy for regular mail hasn’t seen any major lawsuits.
But it was challenged by House Appropriations members, like Philly Democrat Maria Donatucci.
“I’m getting a lot of complaints from constituents who have loved ones who are incarcerated,” Donatucci said. “I’ve seen some of the scans, they weren’t that great.”
Wetzel said he believes the scans are doing their job.
“The version of K2 that’s coming into prisons right now is a clear, odorless liquid that was either sprayed on pages, or actually injected into printer ink. So, it’s next to impossible to stop it from coming in,” he said.
However, he did leave room open for improvements.
“We’re going to take some steps to enhance the picture quality,” he said. “We’re close to an announcement on that.”
The DOC is paying about $4 million a year for its Florida-based contractor to process prison mail.
PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting.