For inmates, correctional facilities are often slow, static environments. The daily routine rarely changes; time passes slowly. But correctional officers know that in fact, corrections is a fast-paced, every-changing industry. And those changes are perhaps most obvious when we look at legal trends for correctional facilities.
In a recent session from Lexipol’s Connect 2023 virtual conference, Eric Wilson, an attorney for Lexipol and the former assistant chief for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office Civil Division, shared three legal trends correctional officers need to have on their radar.
#1: Medication-Assisted Treatment
As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities, more and more people entering our jails are battling opioid use disorder. Withdrawal management, while still important, is no longer enough. Opioid use disorder is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning jails may need to provide residents with access to suboxone, methadone or other maintenance medications. Today many jails are establishing medication-assisted treatment programs (also known as medications for opioid use disorder programs) to help manage these complex cases. It’s an investment, but as Wilson points out, failure to do so can put agencies on the wrong side of the law.
#2: Inmate Mail Scanning
One of the biggest legal trends for correctional facilities involves inmate mail, but it relates to the first issue as well. Today, physical mail can easily conceal illegal drugs, in part because many synthetic drugs (like fentanyl) require only very small amounts to be effective. In other cases, contraband is disguised as legal mail. Preventing contraband from entering the jail requires time-consuming, manual searches of inmate mail. And that has led many facilities to switch to policies that prohibit physical mail and scan all mail digitally and deliver the digital copy to the incarcerated person. Wilson outlines a few of the legal gray areas such policies can get into.
#3: Transgender Inmate Searches and Confinement
Across society as a whole, there is an evolving understanding of gender identity. When it comes to incarcerated persons, that evolution often conflicts with traditional jail policies. And nowhere is this more fraught with legal and ethical considerations than when it comes to physical searches and confinement of transgender inmates. Wilson details a few of the biggest issues in this area and provides some case law to follow.