EXCLUSIVE: One of the country’s most notorious jails – New York City’s Rikers Island – is seeing an "all-time high" number of drugs being smuggled in through the mail, as corrections officials mull safer alternatives rather than risk potentially deadly exposure.
New York City’s Department of Corrections houses an average of 5,678 inmates throughout its seven facilities. Its most sprawling complex and one of nation's largest municipal jail systems, Rikers Island, consists of 10 different units and has its share of controversial history.
Most recently, the facility and the Department of Corrections as a whole have grappled with an influx of serious drugs, namely fentanyl, being smuggled in disguised as mail or in other ways.
Video obtained exclusively by Fox News Digital shows stacks and boxes of books and pieces of paper that had allegedly been soaked with fentanyl or other diluted drugs and were intercepted by correction officers, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News Digital.
In the video, correction officers are seen "standing next to boxes of books that have been discovered that are laced in fentanyl, where entire books are laced in the drug," the source said.
"You see the officer thumbing through each page that is contaminated with the drug. And each page can be used for inmates to smoke or inhale or burn or use for contraband – buying and selling," the source went on. "There is boxes literally stacked upon each other with similar books as the one the officer is holding."
Officers are seen in the video pointing to what they call "discoloration" in parts of the pages of books that were sent to the facility.
And documents obtained exclusively by Fox News Digital offer a glimpse into some of the instances in which correction officers are encountering drug-laced mail.
In one instance, from Sept. 7, an officer inside the mailroom at Rikers’ Eric M. Taylor Center was "conducting a search of a package" and discovered four "books soaked in an unknown liquid substance," which later tested positive for fentanyl, according to a memo emailed to DOC staff and obtained by Fox News Digital.
Officers also encounter similar contraband in the form of just one or a few sheets of paper, documents show.
In a different instance at the Taylor Center, officers in the mailroom were inspecting a package on Sept. 14 when they found one "letter soaked in an unknown liquid substance." The letter later tested positive for fentanyl, according to the document obtained by Fox News Digital.
The DOC system consists of seven facilities across four of the five boroughs, in addition to its massive Rikers Island complex, which is in East Elmhurst, New York.
During a New York City Board of Correction meeting on Sept. 13, officials addressed the issue, calling their efforts to thwart the proliferation of drugs entering their facilities "a priority for us."
Speaking about the ways in which drugs are playing a role in inmate deaths in DOC custody, Paul Shechtman, deputy commissioner of legal matters and general counsel for the Department of Corrections, said the issue was "of enormous importance to us."
"You see a lot of fentanyl entering either through the mail or through packages," he admitted.
He added that the agency is "exploring" the "ability to scan mail and send it to inmates via tablets."
As of Tuesday, DOC personnel had recovered more than 4,000 weapons and over 700 drug-related contraband during tactical searches inside facilities, Fox News has learned.
Meanwhile, 15 inmates have died while in DOC custody since the beginning of 2022, as of Wednesday. An inmate most recently died on Tuesday, the agency said. Inmate deaths are often, though not always, linked to narcotics use.
The NYC DOC did not respond to Fox News Digital’s multiple requests for an on-the-record statement regarding contraband entering its facilities through the mail and other options for delivering mail.
The local correction officer’s union has long been calling for mail to be scanned and sent to inmates electronically to the tablets they already own.
Benny Boscio, the president of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, told Fox News Digital the corrections department has "a major problem with drugs coming in through the mail."
"We’ve been saying for quite some time that they should go to a paperless system. The inmates have tablets… They have to have tablets. So why can't they get their mail on tablets?" Boscio said by phone on Tuesday. "It would prevent so much."
The amount of drugs coming into the facilities through the mail is at an "all-time high," he went on. He said his office has engaged in "conversations" on the topic with the DOC and the mayor’s office.
"They're taking, let's just say a 400-page book and soaking that book in fentanyl so that the book is completely soaked in fentanyl," Boscio said. "It gets mailed to inmates, and now that inmate has basically 400 pages of fentanyl that… that they could basically do their drug transactions in the facilities with."
He added: "We build bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers, but we can’t fix broken cells at Rikers Island? We can’t come up with technology to stop paper mail?"
And it poses "major risks" not only for the inmates, but for the drug-sniffing K9s and the correction officers tasked with inspecting the mail, who are already operating at lower than usual staffing numbers, he said.
Boscio added: "We want everybody to be safe – we want the inmates to be safe, and we want our correction officers to be safe."