A legislative committee heard from Correction Department officials today on a recent spate of deaths in the Varner Unit presumed to be related to illegal drugs, perhaps the synthetic drug known as K2.

Legislators heard that some guards were likely responsible for bringing drugs in for sale. They also were told it was believed — or hoped — the spate of 5 deaths at Varner was an aberration.

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Afterward, the Correction Department detailed its efforts to clean up the prisons.

Following today’s meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Charitable, Penal, and Correctional Institution’s Subcommittee; The Department of Correction is releasing the following ongoing interdiction efforts discussed with the subcommittee. These efforts were all implemented prior to last week’s incidents at the Varner Unit. These efforts, in addition to targeted staff deployments, K9 deployments, and technological upgrades, have led to a projected 37% decrease in the number of K2-related incidents from 2017 to 2018:

* In 2017, the department implemented interior and exterior signage to educate the inmates and public on the dangers of contraband; in addition to the penalties for the introduction and possession of contraband;

* In 2017, the department’s contract medical provider, Correct Care Solutions (CCS), provided their staff, and ADC staff, with handouts describing the warning signs of potential drug use. CCS has also provided inmates with a handout describing the dangers of drug use. These handouts followed a department-wide memo on the dangerous of K2 which was provided to every inmate;

* As a result of feedback from the State Crime Lab indicating the confiscated K2 was not being found on “vegetable matter,” (i.e. tobacco or marijuana), but on paper, the department changed its mail policy in August 2017. Inmates now receive photocopies of the first three (3) pages of correspondence, plus the envelope;

* In 2017, all units were provided educational videos by our drug treatment staff which warns of the dangers of drug use. These videos are shown before institutional programming. In addition, inmates at the Tucker Unit have produced a scripted interview show called “KO-K2.”

* In 2017, the department added information to our public website warning visitors of the dangers of synthetic drugs. The warning includes a link to the patient information handout prepared by CCS.

* In 2017 and earlier this year, several units established unit-level efforts to reduce instances of violence and the flow of contraband within the department. These programs include, support groups for former drug users, the previously mentioned inmate-produced scripted interview show, and gang renunciation groups.

Additionally, the department will be conducting a Critical Incident Review in to last week’s incidents at the Varner Unit. This review will begin following the completion of the ongoing State Police investigations and will focus on the adequacy of the department’s emergency preparedness procedures following the previously-mentioned incidents.