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Malcom Andrew H. - 30 dicembre 1989
Explosive Drug Use Creating New Underworld in Prisons
By Andrew H. Malcolm

(The New York Times, 12/30/89)

Drug use inside prisons across the United States has become a major problem with a variety of consequences, including threats to prison order, violence among inmates and corruption of guards and other employees.

After years of denying or overlooking the existence of illicit drugs behind the towering walls and ribbons of razor wire that encircle their institutions, prison administrators, as well as academics, have only just begun to study the precise scale of inmate drug abuse.

But a series of interviews, visits to prisons and reviews of the professional literature in recent weeks indicate the problem is more widely acknowledged. Controversial steps are already being taken to combat the surprising ingenuity of prison officials express resignation that the problem will never be solved without Draconian measures that American society seems unwilling to impose.

"There's been a real explosion of drug use in prison", said Dr. Harry Wexler of Narcotics and Drug Research Inc., a nonprofit company that does considerable research with Federal grants. "The explanation is simple: There's been a real explosion of drug users going to prison." William Flower, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Correction, added, "What you have on the street is what you have on the inside.

More than three dozen states are operating under some kind of court order controlling overcrowding, and tough enforcement of drug laws has worsened that problem as more men and women have been convicted of drug violations. Estimates of the prisoners personally involved with drugs now range from 40 to 90 percent.

Thousands of new cells are planned or under construction, costing billions of dollars. President Bush's new antidrug program contains an 85 percent increase in Federal money for prison construction.

Never in the nation's history have so many of its citizens been imprisoned. As of June 30, state and Federal prisons contained 673.565 prisoners. That was an increase of 7,3 percent, or 56.004 prisoners just since January, a larger increase in six months than the nation has ever experienced in a whole year.

Formal drug rehabilitation treatment within prisons is just in its infancy, and many of those facing long sentences for drug offenses like trafficking were drug abusers themselves.

Often during their daytime rounds of noisy prison common rooms, guards ...... the familiar glazed look of an addict intoxicated on drugs. They tell of coming upon inmates shooting up in the private shadows of their cells, and at night, the guards say, they routinely smell marijuana smoke drifting out from the darkness behind the bars. Inmates, too, tell of witnessing frequent drug use.

"I've seen more drugs in here than out there", said Charles Capers, a 37 year-old, six-time convict in the Connecticut penal system.

Sharon A. Williams of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, said, "The prison drug problem is begginning to emerge now", adding, "You couldn't talk about it before."

Not every prison system admits to a major problem. Greg Bogdan, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, whose institutions hold about 7 percent of the nation's prisoners, said 49.936 random urine tests of Federal prisoners in the nine months ending last June 30 found only 2,2 percent testing positive, half the 1986 rate.

It is generally in the far larger state and county prison system that the problem is detected and now openly discussed.

"Prisons are an incredible captive drug market", said Bob B., a former New York prison c..... and one-time heroin addict who asked that his full name not be used. "Drugs inside can bring three times their street value." He told of counseling prisoners fearful for their lives because they were caught in wars among inmates competing for control of drug sales. He himself admitted smulling in some drugs on occasion.

Indeed, announcements of arrests of prison staff for drug smuggling have become frequent. In Michigan, some prison personnel were charged with accepting bribes to arrange for some inmates to transfer from one institution to another to expand the prison drug rings.

The Smugglers

Liberalized Visiting, Ingenious Conduits

Though prison staff involvement in drug smuggling and sales is a serious problem, the principal transporters of drugs into prisons, the officials say, are visitors. And the increasingly large numbers of visitors make through individual searches unrealistic, if not impossible, given current liberalized visiting policies and procedures. Drug deliveries by visitors and payments to drug suppliers are easily arranged from inside by unmonitored pay phones, the officials said.

The drugs arrive in prison in many imaginative manners - squeezed into the bindings of books, hidden on the back of stamps, inside a girlfriend's bra or a baby's diapers and stuffed into rectum or vaginas.

Searches are often prohibited by courts unless there is good reason for suspicion. To estabilish such probable cause, all visitors to New York City's Rikers Island prisons, for instance, are assigned numbered seats on special buses. After a short ride, visitors are removed from the bus while trained drug-sniffing dogs check each seat. When the dogs, with names like Curley, Melvin, Major and Roscoe, indicate strong interest in a particular seat, the occupant is required to undergo a thorough body search or his or her visit is canceled.

Thick Glass Is Gone

The scale of the problem in checking visitors is evident in the crowded New York City jail system. It has 20,300 prisoners in its 15 institutions, 2,810 more than last December. It has 12,293 employees, including 10,210 correction officers, or guards. Each year the system must also process nearly 400,000 visitors, or several visitors for each prisoners.

And while visitors are screened by metal detectors and a handful of guards monitor the visiting rooms, security is nothing like the popular image from old movies, with prisoners and families separated by thick glass and conversing by telephone.

In the last decade or so prison philosophy has emphasized helping prisoners maintain family ties as an integral part of their long-range of their long-range rehabilitation. So most institutions now allow what are called "contact visits." Typically, dozens of prisoners sit across open tables from visitors, holding hands. Embraces and and kisses are allowed at the beginning and end of the visit.

One popular means of transmitting drugs is to exchange a ballon packed with drugs during a kiss. some prisons videotape visiting rooms, and guards replay tapes of the initial embraces to spot suspicious kisses. Those prisoners will then undergo a particulary rigorous examination by guards after the visit before being returned to their cell.

Some prisoners have been known to swallow the ballon before such searches and to recover the drugs later either by induced vomiting or rectrieviing the container from their own excrementin a day or two.

"Sit Around And Connive"

Another exchange method is for a visitors to deposit the drugs in a designated prison washroom, which is then very promptly "cleaned" by an inmate crew. Still another is for the visitor to flush a bag of drugs down a prison toilet for waiting inmates to fish from the institution's sewage treatment plant.

Michael A. Cheernovetz, warden of the Community Corretional Center in Bridgeport, Conn., said most citizens are unware of how prisons are run today. "They think every intitutions is always locked up tighter than a drum," he said. "But the fiscal reality is that I've got to have nonviolent inmates performing many maintenance and caretaker jobs - wwepping driveways, cutting grass, putting out garbage. That inmate earns a little more than that. I can't have one staffer stand behind every inmate who goes outside for a few minutes.

"And all it takes is a phone call to a girlfriends to tell her to leave the bag in the third bush from the corner. We even have mothers bringing in the stuff. We try to get as much as possible. But these guys have a lot of time to sit aroundand connive."

The Impact Inside

Corroded Order and others says the impact of drugs in prison is not so much that prisoners intoxicated by brugs are likel to assault officers, although that has happened. It is more the danger to the institution of importing wholesale into prison the violent, grievance-filled, debt-ridden drug culture of the streets. A more hostile environment results,with the inmates more prone than ever to argue and fight among themselves.

Prison authorities say the underground drug economy creates a generaly unsafe environment that corrodes order, reduces the effectiveness of academic and drug treatment programs and create staff corruption.

"Sometimes," said Bob, the former New York prison counselor, "these inmates were counseling me like an outmate. They thought I was a fool, coming into prison every day voluntarily for my $23,000 a year and getting high only on the weekends. They arrived in cuffs, were high seven days a week and had definite date to get out and start making their 100 G's a year dealing drugs."

"The guards and the bad guys in prison come from the same neighborhoods," Bob added. "The nice guys became guards going to work every day and the nasty guys became occasional inmates. But, you know, if you go to the zoo every day, when you come home, you beghin reeking of the zoo."

Problems in Local Jails

The Illinois Departement of

corrections reported earlier this year that 66 employees had been arrested in the previous three years on drug and other illegal contraband cherges. In one recent six-month period nearly 650 inmates and 100 visitors were involved in such contraband cases.

"We have a bigger problem than society in general," the Cook County Sheriff, James O'Grady, said in Chicago afther three deputies were among 19 charged last spring in Federal indictments with running a drug ring to supply inmates in the county jail. Two Connecticut guards were arrested for drugs smuggling this fall. In Michigan, a Federal-state study group is investigating reports that state corrections afficials allowed visitors to smugglle illicit drugs and protected inmates from searches in return for payments of up to $1,000 a week by dealers.

Ruby Ryles of New York City's Departement of Correction said that in the last 18 months, 17 departement employees had been arrested on prison drug charges. "Inmates are very creative finding ways of getting drugs in," she said. "But we're creative in findind them, too."

In Search of Solution

Stiff Enforcement And Interdiction

Phil Seelig, president of the Correction Officiers' Benevolent Association, which has ),00 menmbers in the city penal system, said that guards who had been arrested on drug charges had been enticed to partecipate and that the "widespread drug problem" in city jails resulted from law security procedures for visitors and failures to properly prosecute prisoners found with drugs.

"We'd also like to see contact visits abandoned and more thgrough regular searches of cells," he added. As a result of manpower and time constraints, he said, guards can search the accommodations of only about 50 inmates a day out of 2,000 in each unit. That doesn't even make a dent," he said. "The drugs just flow into the unsearched area for a while. And those found with drugs should get more time, not just disciplinated."

Wisconsin has stressed enforcement within prison over interdiction. It uses random announced urine tests to discourage drug use, whit progressively stiffer disciplinary penalties imposed with each positive test result. Positive test result shrank over three recent years from around 30 percent to the 3 to 6 percent range, with higher rates in the higher security prisons. Officials says this has meant the removal of 1,150 drug users from the prison market in the same period.

Search procedures vary. Most systems use metal detectors on visitors and some use metal detectors on visitors and some use them on guards. South Carolina does a pat-down search of all visitors, but other states hesitate without probable cause, fearing lawsuits. Many systems rely on random inmate strip searches after visits.

Mr. Chernovetz of the Connecticut system said: "Sure, some officers are camels. It would be naive to say that some are not drug-involved."

Many systems are subjecting newly hired officers to rigorous investigation and drug testing. And Florida has begun stiff prosecution of staff members found with drugs. "Our best deterrent," said Bob McMaster of Florida's Departement of Corrections, "is to let our own people see that we're going to be very tough on our own people."

"Sure," said Mr. Flower of Connecticut, "you could stop all drugs gettin into prison. You'd clamp down so hard - no human contact, no visit, no exchanges - it would create an inuman explosive situation probably worse than what we've got."

 
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