Cambria County Prison no longer allows mail to be sent directly to the Ebensburg lockup.
Instead, any mail to an inmate will first go to TextBehind, a Maryland company, which will photocopy the material and send the copies to the jail. Families can also send letters and photographs digitally through the company’s website, www.textbehind.com.
This is just the latest in a series of moves prison leaders have been forced to take in an effort to stop contraband, especially dangerous drugs, from entering the prison.
“This new procedure eliminates the possibility of any contraband entering the facility through inmate personal mail,” Bill Patterson, first deputy warden, said during a recent meeting of the Cambria County Prison Board.
Patterson and Warden Christian Smith said drug smuggling is a major problem for local, state and federal prisons.
And those sending drugs to inmates can be clever, sometimes soaking letters and envelopes with drugs in the hopes of slipping the material past those checking mail.
TextBehind calls itself an “inmate mail management software and service.” Cambria’s contract with the company took effect Dec. 2.
Keeping out contraband is a constant battle at the Cambria prison.
In 2018, officials announced plans to eliminate contact visits between inmates and outsiders, who sometimes brought more than their love and hugs with them.
At that time, the prison moved mail processing into a secure area in response to incidents at state facilities, where employees became ill after exposure to materials intended for inmates. All incoming mail was logged and checked, Smith said then.
Now, that mail will instead go to the center in Maryland.
A year earlier, prison officials said they were beginning to use a full body scanner for inmates entering the Cambria center – to find items that might be hidden in strategic places.
This followed two overdoses in the prison’s female housing unit in January 2017, which illuminated the need to stop drugs being smuggled past the gate in body cavities.
Simultaneously, the prison also installed 17 new high-definition security cameras in key areas, including housing units.
Also in 2017, through an arrangement with the state Department of Corrections, the Cambria prison began random sweeps with drug-sniffing dogs.
Smith said then that the Cambria lockup would be part of the state’s regular K-9 rotation.
The relentless rush of contraband, including deadly opioid-based drugs, has forced the Cambria County Prison and other centers of incarceration to find creative ways to keep up with inmates and their suppliers.
We commend Smith and his team for the urgency with which they have tackled this ongoing problem.