If prisons are supposed to be among the most secure places in our society, then isn’t it safe to assume they would be highly secure and safe from the troubles of the street?
Well, yes — and no.
Overall, prisons are pretty efficient in keeping the convicted in. Where they loose the battle is on keeping out what doesn’t belong.
When wardens deal with inmate placement, they usually decide to keep specific gang members together.
The problem, of course, is that this is a great way for gangs to continue their activities while incarcerated.
And every prison official I’ve spoken with agrees it’s those gang members who conspire to make sure there’s a steady stream of illegal drugs coming to their “hood.”
“Inmates have 24/7, 365 days a year ... to think of ways to circumvent prison security measures,” retired Warden Ralph Logan said of the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md.
Logan shakes his head in disbelief about the ever-evolving ways convicts conspired to get their drugs. His guards discovered drugs such as marijuana and heroin hidden inside baby diapers, girlfriends’ body cavities, and in magazines and books visitors tried to bring in as gifts.
Rob Perry, the secretary of corrections for New Mexico from 1997 to 2002, said powdered drugs are often sent through the mail, packed tightly into the corners of envelopes or sent via greeting cards soaked in liquefied methamphetamine or cocaine.
Outside-the-walls coordination is not unusual, according to Perry. His most-outrageous smuggling story required much preparation and some sophisticated tools.
“I saw a quarter,” he told me about an item confiscated by one of his department’s guards. “Someone had cut the thickness of the quarter in half and hollowed it out, leaving a circular chamber inside. A tiny pin connected the two halves. There was black-tar heroin inside.”
It was obviously painstaking work, and it was duplicated, according to Perry, on a half-dozen coins. The visitor who passed them was never located.
Dan Hanks is a reformed ex-con who still remembers how he and his California prison gang got around the rules. “Prisons operate,” he says, “because the inmates do the work."
Prisoners run the laundry and order goods for the kitchen, library and wood shop. There’s a shipping and receiving department, and it’s often run by inmates. Think of the opportunities they have to coordinate incoming drug shipments.
It’s estimated that it costs an average $34,000 a year to house a prisoner. Unless we’re prepared to spend about double that, the situation is not going to change.
Examiner columnist Diane Dimond is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.