Virginia Prisons Create Underwear Rule To Curb Overdose Crisis

By William Georgiades 04/12/17

The Virginia prison system is instituting a variety of new measures to keep drugs from being smuggled into prisons.

A guard standing outside a Dade County prison.

The opioid epidemic continues to grow, and now the state of Virginia’s prison system is responding to its own overdose crisis with measures to limit prisoners’ access to narcotics, according to

The main forms of smuggling drugs into prisons are via visits or the mail. According to Lisa Kinney with the Virginia Department of Corrections, drugs were intercepted from mail delivery 12 times in the past year, while 31 visitors to the state's prisons were caught attempting to smuggle drugs inside.

This did not stop nine fatal overdoses from heroin and fentanyl happening in that same period. That number has galvanized the Corrections Department to take more active measures with mail and visitations, to stem the tide of opioid use in Virginia’s prisons.

The state has 37 prisons holding approximately 30,000 inmates; those facilities receive some 250,000 visitors a year. 

The new policies require inmates to change into prison-issued underwear for all visits, and mail coming into the prison will be photocopied while the original pages are discarded. The measures will target 25 of the state’s high security prisons.

Kinney explained that drugs can be passed via vending machine snacks, or Suboxone-soaked letters sent via mail. Drugs can be placed in solutions and soaked into paper.

As of April 22, male inmates will be strip-searched before and after visits, and will have to change into state-issued underwear, socks, shoes, and jumpsuits that zip up in the back for the duration of the visit. After the visit, the clothing will be exchanged for the inmate’s regular prison clothes. Female inmates will have to wear the jumpsuit but will not be required to change underwear.

Incoming mail, meanwhile, will be photocopied and inmates will receive copies of the pages and the envelope. The original correspondence will then be shredded.

Response to the measures may mirror the ACLU’s suit against New Hampshire’s Department of Corrections in 2015, for keeping inmates from receiving greeting cards and drawings for the same reason. The suit, still pending, states that the policies violate the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution.

A video about the new mail policy can be seen at

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William Georgiades is a former editor at EsquireBlack Book, the New York Post and the Grapevine and has written for several publications including New York MagazineVanity Fair, the London Times and GQ. He has been the features editor at The Fix since 2013. You can find him on Linkedin.