No-letter policy going into effect at Blount and Knox Co. jails

No-letter policy going into effect at Blount and Knox County jails

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Knox County Director of Corrections Chief Rodney Bivens says contraband must be kept of out jails for the safety of the staff and inmates. Knox County Director of Corrections Chief Rodney Bivens says contraband must be kept of out jails for the safety of the staff and inmates.
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By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Two jails in East Tennessee are putting tighter limits on inmate mail after a suspicious letter incident earlier this month in Blount County. An inmate also contacted 6 News with concerns.

Starting Saturday, both Blount and Knox County detention facilities will have a new policy regarding inmate mail. Inmates will no longer be able to send or receive letters. According to Knox County's director of corrections and personnel, the change improves the safety of both the officers and the inmates.

Every day hundreds of letters are sent to and from the Knox County Detention Center. Despite opening and inspecting each envelope, efforts to sneak contraband into the facility continue.

"They were putting acid dripping, acid product-type narcotics on the stamps," said Chief Rodney Bivens.

Knox County Director of Corrections Chief Rodney Bivens says the tape to seal the letters has been used as a way to deliver drugs.

"Most recently we've got into this thing called suboxone. It's a type of drug and it looks like a piece of tape," said Chief Bivens.

Contraband is hidden in stamps, on the envelope and on the paper inside.

Blount County officials are also having problems.

A suspicious letter containing a white substance was sent to the Blount County Detention Facility on Jan. 16. The incident was the catalyst to cause change in Knox County.

"This really put a light on [that] we need to be looking at something different. And by using the email system and the postcard system, we feel like they are still getting what they need to correspond with family members," said Chief Bivens.

Inmates in both Blount and Knox County detention facilities will not be allowed to send or receive letters beginning Feb. 1. Only postcards and legal mail will be allowed to go through.

Knox County inmates will also be allowed to send and receive emails at the cost of 35 cents per email.

Chief Bivens says the cost is about equivalent to buying a pad of paper and an envelope, and inmates can send and receive unlimited postcards.

Knox County inmate Andrew Tirado sent 6 News a two-page letter detailing his concerns with the new no-letter policy. He says some of the inmates' families don't have computers and that the policy change will disrupt family and employment relations.

Chief Bivens says contraband must be kept of out jails for the safety of the staff and inmates.

"We can have people overdosing and stuff and not even know what they are overdosing on so it's just a big problem, a safety and security issue," said Chief Bivens.

Chief Bivens says if the inmate has been declared indigent, they will be given the postcards for free.

Many of the surrounding county jails still allow inmates to send and receive letters. According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, the 14 state prisons across the state also still allow inmates to send and receive letters. Chief Bivens says the mail policy may be new in East Tennessee. but the change has been made in many facilities across the country.

Two Knox County employees currently inspect the letters for the 1,400 inmates every day.

Chief Bivens says changing to postcards will not result in cost savings, but it will take some of the load off the employees and make their efforts more effective.

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