Roanoke City jail adds iPad mail system to reduce contraband

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Officials with the Roanoke County Sheriff's Office say at least twice a month, they've found hidden contraband, such as drugs, smuggled in letters, birthday cards and other pieces of mail for inmates.

"And then on the back side of these stickers they attached some suboxone strips in there and so we were able to detect those," said Major David Bell, pointing out images of said contraband.

"With our detection we were able to see it was marijuana," he said pointing to another example, a piece of paper peeled open to reveal the green substance.

Supervisors in the jail said they worried for the safety of inmates, staff and visitors.

"Especially with fentanyl, you touch that and it's absorbed into your skin or inhaled," said Lieutenant Brandon Young. "and our staff doesn't know what's in the envelope as they're opening it you know that causes increased concern for their safety."

In the last few months they've installed more than 400 tablets inside the inmate housing units.

Now, mail is sent to a PO Box, scanned and retrieved in PDF form by the inmate.

Young said this reduces paperwork. One unit in the jail can receive 50 to 60 paper submissions from inmates daily.

"Now they can basically send me a text message or an electronic message and I can respond a lot quicker," Young said.

When they were first installed, Bell says they had some WiFi security issues they say have now been resolved. Young said being that the jail is located downtown, there are many WiFi spots open. He said the fix will prevent inmates from being able to access the open internet.

And they say, it came at no cost to the city.

"We're wanting to be more progressive, look at better ways to serve our inmate population," Young said. "And serve the community and ways to make our facility safer."