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Indiana prisons ban inmates from receiving greeting cards

May 2, 2017

A recent trend of lacing mail with drugs has led to a ban on greeting cards in Indiana prisons.

The Indianapolis Star reported the April 1 change also bans colored paper of any kind and photocopies of white paper. Lined white paper in white envelopes and legal documents can still be sent to inmates

The ban comes after state prisons saw an increase in cards soaked in the liquid synthetic drug K2. The cards can be torn up and smoked, which can turn users aggressive and violent.

James Basinger, the deputy commissioner who oversees Indiana Department of Correction operations, said the ban was imposed because K2 is difficult to detect. Drug-sniffing dogs can't catch it and drug tests aren't effective.

"Unless there's a visible stain on the paper, or the paper seems to be unusually wrinkled or crisp, there's not a whole lot of telltale signs that a paper has been altered," Basinger said.

The change has not been well received by families and friends of inmates.

"I've not been a very popular guy in Indiana the last few weeks," Basinger said. "I'm trying to do what's best for the offenders."

Parishioners at the Chicago-based St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church were shocked by the change. The church has an outreach ministry team of 10 people who sends prisoners cards around the holidays.

"A lot of prisoners have said to us in their letters if it weren't for us, no one would be corresponding," said Pat Cole, who co-coordinates the ministry with her husband, Steve. "We're reaching into the darkness. The letters really are a lifeline."

Easter cards sent in April were returned with a note explaining the new policy, parishioners said.

"It's ridiculous," Steve Cole said. "What more can they do to dehumanize the prisoners?"

The policy will be reviewed in October to determine its effectiveness.

Basinger said he is looking for other options to keep the drug out of prisons without restricting mail. Other options include scanning mail and then delivering copies to inmates or sending electronic copies of mail through kiosks or tablets, though these would come with higher costs.

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