After flood of meth-soaked letters hits O.C. jails, sheriff announces crackdown

Orange County Jail
Inmates no longer will be able to receive certain types of mail at the Orange County’s jails, where authorities are trying to crack down on drug contraband. Pictured is the Central Jail in Santa Ana.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A surge in drug smuggling and trafficking inside Orange County’s jails has led the Sheriff’s Department to crack down on inmate mail after meth-soaked letters and other contraband were found creeping into the facilities.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department posted Monday on Facebook that certain types of inmate mail will now be prohibited. Jailers did not specify what letters would be banned, but said the mailroom is a common avenue for inmates to receive narcotics and other contraband. So far this year, 147 greeting cards containing drugs — most soaked in meth — have been found, authorities said.

For the record:

8:38 p.m. July 23, 2019An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that between 2011 and 2017, an average of 26.8 inmate-on-staff assaults occurred each year in Orange County jails.

The change is meant to decrease drug trafficking, which the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release has ballooned since 2011 when legislators passed Assembly Bill 109. That law shifted the responsibility of lower-level felons from state prisons to county sheriffs and probation departments.

A body scanner similar to those used at airports also has been added to the jail’s intake and release center, sheriff’s officials said. Inmates sometimes try to conceal narcotics “on or in their person,” authorities say, so they will be searched when booked into the jail and after attending court, as well as randomly in their cells. Drug-sniffing canines also will conduct searches of the mailroom for contraband, according to the news release.


Sheriff’s officials could not immediately be reached Tuesday about the changes but said in the Facebook post that crime and drug smuggling inside the jails have increased since the passage of AB109. From 2012 to 2017, an average of 64.5 inmate-on-staff assaults occurred each year, compared with an average of 26.8 from 2007 to 2011, according to the news release. And from 2012 to 2017, officials documented an average of 468 drug seizures a year, compared with 57 on average between 2008 and 2011, the release showed.