WHITE PLAINS, NY --County Executive Robert P. Astorino has directed the Department of Correction to implement new visitation procedures at the Westchester County Jail as a preventive measure to limit opportunities for visitors to pass illegal contraband to prisoners.
Beginning Sept. 14, inmates will be limited to a maximum of two visitors during a single visit – down from the current maximum of four. In addition, physical contact between prisoners and visitors will be restricted to a brief embrace and kiss at the start and end of any visit.
The changes follow a review of procedures ordered by Astorino after 13 inmates at the jail became seriously ill over the course of several days in July after ingesting synthetic marijuana. The wife of a jail inmate was charged with promoting prison contraband in connection with several of those overdose incidents.
“We have zero tolerance for the introduction of illegal narcotics and other contraband into the county jail,” said Astorino. “If individuals are going to abuse visitation privileges, we are going to respond and do everything necessary to keep the jail safe for the public, correction officers and staff, visitors and the inmates.”
Astorino also ordered a complete search of the jail facility and grounds in July to locate any remaining illegal contraband. Teams of police and correction officers, supplemented by narcotics detection canines, swept all cells and common areas at the jail and recovered a small amount of contraband.
Correction Commissioner Kevin M. Cheverko said the jail’s new rules for physical contact will prohibit prisoners and visitors from holding hands during visits. Only two visitors, regardless of age, will be permitted. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Cheverko said the department will also reconfigure the layout of the visitation area and use tables that have a partition between visitors and prisoners.
He said all the changes being made are permissible under state regulations and are designed to enhance correction officers’ ability to detect efforts to pass illegal narcotics or other prohibited items during the approximately 60,000 prisoner visits that occur each year.
Inmates and their family members are currently being apprised of the new procedures so they will be aware of them in advance.
“Our goal is always to strike a balance between keeping the facility secure and treating visitors and prisoners fairly,” Cheverko said. “These new procedures will continue to help us meet that goal.”