The Orange County Sheriff's Department announced Tuesday new, proactive efforts to reduce a dramatic increase in drug trafficking and assaults on staff in the four county-run jail facilities over the past eight years.
Among the efforts being implemented by the OCSD is no longer allowing greeting cards to be sent to inmates. In 2019, nearly 150 greeting cards containing narcotics were mailed to inmates with the majority of the cards soaked in methamphetamine.
Jail staff also conduct random inmate searches and searches when an inmate returns from a court appearance using body scanners similar to those used at airports. Police dogs are used to search jail cells and mail and have located drugs, including cocaine and prescription opioids, more than 200 times this year alone, the sheriff's department said.
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In the first three months of this year, 35 individuals being booked into jail have attempted to enter with drugs concealed on or in their body.
The concealed drugs included fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana or prescription medications, the OCSD said.
Deputies working in the jails and in the community have been trained since 2017 to use Nalaxone, also known as Narcan, to block the effects of an opioid overdose. In the first six months of 2019, 28 inmates have received Nalazone within Orange County jails.
"The safety and security of those in our custody is one of the main tenets of our duty as a sheriff's department," Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes said. "We will never stop implementing innovative ideas, deploying new strategies, and educating the community to do everything we can to keep those both in our custody and within our communities safe."
The increase in drug use in Orange County jails has been linked to California Assembly Bill 109, which was enacted in October 2011 and moved lower level felons from the state prison system to county jails and probation departments, sending felons to county jails not designed to house inmates serving long-term sentences, the sheriff's department said.
The jails were intended to house inmates or those who were serving sentences of less than a year, but with AB109 in effect county jails now contain short term inmates and those serving multi-year sentences, in effect creating a marketplace for drug activity, the OCSD said.
Between 2012 and 2017, drug seizures ballooned to an average of 468 per year, up from an average of 57 per year in the three years prior to the implementation of AB 109, and hit an all-time high of 738 in 2017.
"There is a sophisticated criminal element inside of our jails doing everything they can to deliberately circumvent our security procedures," Barnes said.
"These state-prisoners-turned-county-inmates are more criminally sophisticated, increasing both the amount of contraband inside of Orange County Jails and inmate assaults on staff. This is a statewide challenge that we are all dealing with. It is important for the public to know the reality of these problems and the consequence of poor public policy."