What do birds, burritos, and balloons all have in common? They’ve all been used to smuggle contraband into prisons.
Broadly speaking, contraband is anything within a correctional facility that could be used to make a weapon, get you high, or talk to someone in the outside world.
While each facility has it’s own list of prohibited items, the three major categories of banned items include weapons, narcotics and electronic devices. As a general rule, inmates caught with contraband face additional charges and added time on their sentences, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to smuggle it into facilities.
To keep dope, shanks and cellphones out of their facilities, correctional officers have to be eagle-eyed; here’s how they do it.
Keeping an Eye Out for Contraband
In an Associated Press article posted to the Daily Herald’s website, Assistant Jail Commander Lieutenant Robin Byers said a majority of contraband is made by inmates out of items, such as soap and papier-mache. Byers said one of the more memorable attempts to smuggle in drugs was when an inmate hid them behind a false eye.
Whether it’s drugs, cellphones or weapons, inmates are always finding new ways to sneak contraband into correctional facilities.
According to Vernon Freeman Jr., of WTVR, a pigeon was found with a cell phone and battery attached to its back by corrections officers in Sao Paulo’s Franco da Rocha prison. Officers were clued into the failed attempt after several inmates tried to catch the bird in the prison yard.
While birds aren’t exactly the simplest mode of transporting contraband into prisons, other detainees have attempted even more hi-tech forms of smuggling.
Waseem Abbasi of USA Today reported that drones were being used to drop off items into a prison. USA Today submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find proof of these attempts, and the government verified them. The Department of Justice sent several documents to the news outlet which “…uncovered more than a dozen attempts to transport contraband — including mobile phones, drugs and porn — into federal prisons in the past five years,” Abbasi wrote.
One such incident happened in South Carolina in 2014 according to an article by Harriet McLeod for Reuters. A drone was used to send in cell phones, marijuana and tobacco, but it crashed outside the correctional facility’s walls.
Perfecting Search Techniques
Of course, drones aren’t the preferred method for smuggling. Most inmates hide contraband in objects or clothing, such as books or underwear, and attempt to sneak it into general population.
Byers told the Associated Press, “’We do find a lot of it. Some of it does get into general population. We find a lot of drugs during strip searches around the anal cavity. Sometimes we’ll find it in a plastic bag or balloon.’”
Correctional officers must be eagle-eyed to find contraband in and around the facility. It is standard procedure to search inmates before they are incarcerated. In men’s and women’s correctional facilities, inmates are subjected to cavity searches as contraband is frequently hidden there. Prisons are now performing X-rays on incoming inmates to help identify forbidden objects that could be hidden within organs, such as the stomach.
If an inmate swallows a balloon of narcotics, they are moved to a dry cell until they pass the substance or have the objects removed surgically. The inmate must be monitored during this time, so that stomach acid doesn’t deteriorate the bag and cause an overdose.
Balloons and bags are easily found during X-rays. Bonneville County Jail in Idaho Falls, Idaho has trained correctional officers to look for any abnormalities, whether it be something metal on their clothes or contraband in the stomach or body cavity.
According to Johnathan Hogan of the Idaho Post Register, “Deputies are trained to recognize what an X-ray should look like with no hidden items and what items may look like when hidden on an X-ray, making it easier to recognize when someone is hiding contraband.”
Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Michael Pickett told Hogan that the body cavity is the most commonly used way to sneak in contraband. The jail subjects inmates and their cells to searches every week to help reduce the passage of contraband around the facility.
The Main Goal is Safety
Correctional officers don’t perform searches just for inmate safety, but for their own as well. It’s an officer’s duty to protect inmates and help them on their road to rehabilitation. Homemade weapons and drug-trading threaten everyone in a facility.
According to McLeod, “Illegal cellphones, an issue in prisons nationwide, have drawn particular alarm in South Carolina. In 2010, a cellphone smuggled into the same prison was used to order a hit on a prison officer, who was shot six times at his home but survived.”
Corrections officers deal with possible dangers every day when they enter their workplace. Inmates may be the most obvious threat to safety, but they aren’t the only one, as visitors can bring in harmful objects as well.
A corrections officer’s main goal is facility security and having illegal items smuggled into a correctional facility endangers everyone.