File Photo – Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

(The Center Square) – Fentanyl-laced mail is making its way into Illinois’ corrections system, leading to inmate and officer overdoses, and some officials are demanding a change in policy to stop it.

Scot Ward, president of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Corrections Lodge 263, said there are ongoing issues concerning the safety of staff and inmates.

“There’s always a staffing issue, there’s always mental health for the offenders and the officers,” Ward told The Center Square.

“There’s all kinds of things going on in the [Illinois Department of Corrections] that needs to be spoken about,” Ward said.

Ward was critical of what he characterized as a system being watered down to appease special interest groups.

“[T]he Governor’s appointee Camile Lindsay, who gives direction to IDOC, has dangerously shifted focus to an anti-law enforcement, criminal-centered environment that placates social justice advocates at the expense of accountability for criminal behavior,” Ward said in a statement.

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“Offenders are no longer concerned about being punished for their violent acts, and that means they literally have nothing to lose by assaulting any human being they encounter in prison,” Ward said.

“And if they are not accountable on the inside, how can you ever hope to safely return them to society once their sentences are over?” Ward added.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections said they “strongly disagree” with Ward’s representation.

“The information provided by Fraternal Order of Police Corrections Lodge 263 is inaccurate,” Kim Garecht said.

“The Department’s evolution to an incentive-based corrections model is an administration-wide initiative and has resulted in a reduction of violence within our facilities,” Garecht said.

Ward said another major issue that is becoming more common is inmates receiving mail laced with fentanyl.

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“Six offenders overdosed in one day,” Ward said of one downstate facility.

“I know Western Illinois, Illinois River, Menard, they’ve had offenders and staff several times in a day’s time frame, and then all your tactical teams that are going in after it’s been found gloving up and trying to find these drugs. The chance of exposure is daily,” he said.

Inmates get mail, which corrections staff check while using personal protective gear, but Ward said the attempts to get in paper laced with deadly drugs is also coming in through fraudulent attorney-client correspondence, which may not be as thoroughly evaluated.

It has gotten to the point where he got an alarming call from members at the Pinckneyville Correctional Facility last month.

“Six in one day, I got a call from the Pinckneyville people and they were telling me that they need some help, nothing’s being done,” Ward said.

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“Five shanks in a month they found. Staff assaults and then the six people getting [revived with overdose reversal drugs],” he said.

IDOC said the introduction of contraband into correctional facilities is a nationwide concern and the department “continues to monitor individuals’ use of the US Postal System to attempt to introduce contraband into our facilities.”

Ward said what may have been shown to work is a pilot at the Thomson federal facility in Illinois where photocopied mail was given to inmates.

“Nothing happened for a 90-day period, it went to zero,” Ward said. “The first month after that pilot program was gone, someone died at Thomson with an overdose.”