Prison officials have long said that inmates’ friends and family members bear the most blame for the flow of drugs and other forbidden items into Florida prisons. The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic provided a test of that hypothesis: With visitors barred from visiting Florida prisons for several months, would the amount of drugs, weapons and other contraband confiscated in seizures decline? Not exactly. More drugs were seized in 2020 than in the preceding two years, despite lockdowns that allowed only inmates’ attorneys and prison staff to access the facilities between March and September of 2020, an analysis of contraband seizure data shows, the Miami Herald reports. Overall, the amount of illegal drugs (by weight) seized per 10,000 inmates was more than 40 percent higher in 2020 than in 2019 or 2018, while the rate of prescription and narcotic pills seized in 2020 was nearly double that of 2019 and around triple the rate of pills seized in 2018.
The rate of drugs seized was higher even in just the months during which the prisons were on lockdown and no visitors were allowed. The rates of alcohol and weapons seized, however, did go down in 2020. The families of inmates locked up behind bars, who mostly spoke anonymously for fear of retribution, say the sheer volume of drugs entering Florida prisons, which they attribute largely to prison staffers and gangs, makes it difficult for recovering prisoners to stay clean, or to avoid getting hooked on drugs while behind bars. To combat the proliferation of drugs, the state reportedly began shipping inmates further from their home counties before the pandemic, further from the friends and family that officials said bore some blame for contraband entering prisons. Late last year, the state also banned direct correspondence and began digitizing all mail besides legal and privileged mail and publications, saying that friends and family had been mailing forbidden substances.