NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Letters from friends and family are a lifeline to the world outside for inmates serving time. But in the Davidson County jail, those days are gone.
The sheriff no longer allows any paper — no letters, drawings and not even the Bible behind bars.
It's a radical step to stop the smuggling of drugs. Staff at the jail have seen an alarming spike in drug overdoses.
The issue is spiked paper.
Those trying to smuggle into the jail meltdown drugs — like suboxone strips, a synthetic opioid — then soak portions of a letter, magazine or even a Bible with the drugs and send it all undetected to inmates
"Then on the phone they say, 'Hey, every time you read the word love, lick it," said Sheriff Daron Hall.
And those licks are leading to fentanyl, suboxone and other narcotic overdoses.
"It's the new challenge of the month. We've been trying to get our hands around how to reduce it," he said.
Nothing was working, and the problem in recent months has worsened with more inmate overdoses.
Sheriff Hall says it's lucky there have been no fatalities yet this year.
So, now he decided to take the radical step of basically banning all paper products sent to inmates.
Yes, there's toilet paper, but no more books or holiday greeting cards, he said. "A year ago you could write a Valentine card and the kids would write to mom and dad no longer. We no longer let mom walk down and drop off the book."
Some believe that's an extreme step — no Bibles, no cards or drawings from children.
But the sheriff said the inmates still get access to all such items — only electronically.
Most books like the Bible are online and cards, letters and drawings are now scanned and then sent to the inmates' computers or tablets.
The one exception to this new paper rule is legal documents provided by the attorney to the inmate.
Sheriff Hall is among the first to take such a step with a county jail.
But many others are now moving in that direction, finding they have no choice but to limit paper products to slow the smuggling of drugs behind bars.