Visits to resume Friday after temporary ban at Maryland correctional facilities is lifted

Visits and mail service will return to Maryland correctional facilities in time for the Labor Day weekend after a ban was implemented in response to safety concerns in other states, Maryland prison officials said Thursday.

Imposed Wednesday, the ban will be lifted effective Friday after state correctional officials searched the state’s 24 prisons for any potentially harmful contraband, a statement from Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said.

“Our mission is to protect the public, our staff and those in our custody so we thought the precautions necessary,” Department Secretary Stephen T. Moyer said in a statement. “Our staff worked quickly to ensure that our inmates will have their visits and mail for the holiday weekend.”

Visits and mail service were halted after staff and inmates at facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania became sick from possible drug exposure.

At an Ohio prison, 28 people became sick with signs of opioid exposure Wednesday, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Pennsylvania’s state prisons were on lockdown while investigators looked into similar incidents there.

Maryland officials said Thursday that they found no threats. Prisons were locked down for a day while officials conducted extensive searches and K-9 dogs scanned all prison mail throughout the state.

The ban ends just before the three-day weekend begins. Many families travel to facilities in Hagerstown or on the Eastern Shore to visit inmates, and often stay the night to lengthen time spent with relatives.

Prisoners also will be allowed to receive mail again. During the ban, mail was not to be opened or distributed until staff received protective equipment.

ACLU of Maryland staff attorney Sonia Kumar said Thursday, before the department announced it was lifting the ban, that staff had heard from families of inmates, expressing concern about how long it would last.

“You can imagine the enormous fear that people have when they have an announcement like that,” she said. “There’s a lot of concern.”

For many inmates and their families, the visits are crucial, she said.

“It invites a lot of unnecessary anxiety,” she said.

Kumar questioned the need for the ban as the department did not publicly explain how the incidents reported in Ohio and Pennsylvania might be tied to Maryland.

“There’s no doubt that everyone is in favor of safety and security, but there’s nothing that has been articulated, no specific concerns,” to justify the ban here, she said.

A correctional services spokesman declined to comment on Kumar’s concerns.

The visitation and mail ban occurred as more prisoners nationally are dying from opioid overdoses.

In June, officials said Deniro Bellamy of Randallstown was found collapsed at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, and he later died. The medical examiner said the cause was morphine and fentanyl intoxication. The corrections department said investigators have found no evidence of negligence.

Bellamy’s brother Zeke Bellamy, said his brother had a mental disability and might have been pressured into using drugs by other people being held at the jail.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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