Nova Scotia

Mail withheld from inmates because of suspected drug delivery

No mail was delivered for four days to inmates at a Nova Scotia jail last week because guards suspected a drug was in one piece of mail at the facility.

'They’re punishing a whole population based on what they think is happening,' says Elizabeth Fry Society chair

Jail staff suspected drugs in a piece of mail at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility last week. (CBC)

Inmates at the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou County, N.S., did not receive mail for four days last week because guards suspected a piece of mail delivered to it contained a drug.

"We can confirm that mail was not delivered to offenders for four days, due to the high possibility of a controlled substance in a piece of mail, but it has since resumed," Sarah Gillis, a Justice Department spokesperson wrote in an email.

Safety is top priority

"The safety and security of offenders and our staff is our top priority. We continue to take precautions to protect ... against the risk of opioids, which is happening across the country.

"We continue to make progress in keeping staff and offenders safe through the provincial Opioid Strategy, especially in terms of reducing harm. Naloxone is also available to staff in all of our correctional facilities in the event of a medical emergency."

Gillis later said that it was not confirmed if the possible controlled substance was fentanyl. No one from the Justice Department was available for an interview.

Drugs entering jails remains a concern for Nova Scotia corrections officials. (Chris Corday/CBC)

In a second email, citing safety and security reasons, Gillis refused to provide details on whether jail staff were looking for a specific package, whether the jail was tipped off about a particular piece of mail and if the incident changed the way staff look at the mail.

"Some facilities had a short interruption until it was ensured that protection equipment was in place," Gillis wrote.

Inside the jails, regular searches are done to prevent drugs and tobacco from entering the facility, to recover stolen items and to help prevent escapes.

Not fair to punish all inmates

Dawn Ferris, board chair of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, said her organization, which advocates for women and girls in the justice system, is concerned about the mail disruption.

"Canada Post delivers mail on a daily basis and we believe the women inside have the right to receive their mail on a daily basis," Ferris said. "They're punishing a whole population based on what they think is happening with maybe just a few people or, in fact, maybe just one."

A prison advocate says correctional services was wrong to withhold mail from all inmates last week because they believed a drug was inside a piece of mail at a Pictou County jail. (Shutterstock)

Mail only way to connect with family for some

Ferris pointed out that because provincial jails house offenders from all over the region, mail is the only way for some inmates to communicate with their families.

"And so to withhold that from everybody, it seems punitive and arbitrary. It doesn't seem right," she said.

The society plans to send a letter to correctional services to say that withholding inmates' mail shouldn't happen again.

What's allowed in jail mail?

According to the Justice Department's offender handbook, all incoming and outgoing mail may be inspected in a jail with the exception of privileged correspondence between an inmate and a lawyer.

Mail that is not inspected includes mail to or from a provincial MLA or a federal MP, the deputy minister of justice, the executive director of the correctional services division and the office of the police complaints commissioner.

Visitors and volunteers are not allowed to bring mail or written materials into the jail for inmates. However, a lawyer can bring in documents related to the inmate's court case.

Not allowed in mail in Nova Scotia's jails

The following items aren't allowed in jail mail:

  • Child pornography or nude photos.
  • Material that promotes gang culture.
  • Perfume-saturated or lipstick-covered letters.
  • Dried flowers and seeds.
  • Pens, pencils, paper clips or staples.
  • Condiments like jam, butter and peanut butter.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca

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