WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE PRISONS OF THE
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION
BEING SATURATED WITH DRUGS, TOBACCO, AND CELL PHONES?
by David Harrison
The prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") are saturated with virtually every type of illicit drug, tobacco, as well as cell phones (considered second only to weapons). The CDCR allege that cell phones are used by prisoners to facilitate criminal activity on the streets, as well as to set up escapes from prison and physical violence against staff. Of course, evidence shows that escapes from secure prisons, and physical violence against staff as arranged by prisoners, are nonexistent. If so dangerous then why is staff flooding prisons with cell phones? How is it that a seemingly unlimited quantity of drugs and tobacco are available inside of secure prison walls and electric fences? Propaganda from the mouths of prisoncrats insists that prisoners and their visitors are solely responsible for the introduction of all drugs and tobacco into prisons. The arguments below, however, suggest that while prisoners may well be responsible for a small fraction of the drugs and tobacco, it is actually prison staff who are themselves proactive in the trafficking of drugs and tobacco into prisons and who are unopposed (favorably disposed) to the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol by prisoners. Of course, not every staff member is guilty of such illegal conduct, but the problem is systemic. Indeed, it is staff, be they custody, free staff, administrators, volunteers, educators and/or private contractors, who are ninety-eight percent responsible for the contraband introduced into prisons. But first, before exposing how contraband finds its way into prisons, let's quell any foolishness that prisoners and their family and friends are responsible.
Staff used to argue that all drugs were introduced into prisons by way of the prisoners' quarterly packages, which were sent by family and friends. The party-line rhetoric held that the contraband was somehow secreted inside the package, despite every item in the package being thoroughly inspected by staff prior to it being handed over to the prisoner. The CDCR used that argument to justify the taking away of quarterly packages being sent by family or friends, then handing over lucrative contracts to a select few private vendors who provide quarterly packages, and provide hefty recompense to the CDCR. Quarterly packages sent by family and friends, however, were terminated many years ago. So, how is it that the drugs and tobacco problems inside of prisons are worse today than ever before? Where are the mass quantities of drugs and tobacco coming from, if not in quarterly packages?
Presently, staff argue that all drugs and tobacco coming into prisons are introduced through visiting rooms, that family and friends of prisoners are smuggling the drugs and tobacco into the visiting rooms and to the prisoners, who then, the argument goes, secret the drugs and tobacco past staff, out of the visiting rooms and into the prisons. Staff knows their argument to be false. Visitors of prisoners are required to submit to visual and physical searches, visitors can even be subjected to a strip search. Visitors must walk through an airport-intrusive X-ray scanning machine, and may carry into the visiting room only a few personal items, such as dollar bills for the vending machines, a car key and identification. Those items are placed into a small clear plastic pouch that visitors are allowed to carry into the visiting room. Vehicles may be searched. Staff is not shy in their hands-on inspections of visitors, yet rarely discovers any contraband. But, according to staff, visitors are somehow packing in pounds of drugs and pouches and cans of tobacco, and then passing the drugs and tobacco to prisoners unnoticed by staff working within the visiting room and unobserved by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras within the visiting room. Let us say that the visitor has smuggled the drugs and tobacco to the prisoner, who now has them on his person. What is the prisoner to do? Prisoners are visually monitored when using the bathroom, so there is no opportunity for privacy to ... hide the contraband; and just where is the prisoner going to hide a can of tobacco? Let's give staff the benefit of the doubt, and allow that the visitor has smuggled the drugs and tobacco past staff and into the visiting room, that the visitor then secreted the contraband to the prisoner without being detected by staff or cameras, and that the prisoner then was able to hide the contraband on or inside his person. That is what staff argues, and more. Staff also argues that the prisoner then is able to get the drugs and tobacco out of the visiting room and into the prison. Without staff being complicit, it is an impossibility for the prisoner to then transport drugs and tobacco past visiting room staff and into the prison. And that is because every prisoner leaving the visiting room is forced to undergo an invasive search; all clothing removed, then required to expose to the prying eyes of staff every part of his (the prisoner's) body, head to toe, including every cranny, crevice and body cavity. It is disingenuous of staff to place responsibility for the introduction of drugs and tobacco into prisons on prisoners and their family and friends. It is just an old argument that prison officials recycle to keep the blame off of where it belongs, on prison staff. The amount of drugs and tobacco, if any, introduced into prisons by prisoners is miniscule. The bulk quantities of drugs and tobacco that saturate the prisons of the CDCR are carried inside the prisons by staff.
Unlike visitors and prisoners, staff is not searched, nor are their bags or belongings inspected. They are not subjected to X-ray machines. Staff are not subjected to any sort of search or inspection; the result of contract negotiations over the past two-and-one-half decades between various California governors and assorted staff unions. Staff enjoy, as part of their contracts, unmolested ingress and egress of prisons. One might even wonder why staff carry with them into prisons such enormous bags and packages; easily large enough to carry huge amounts of drugs, tobacco, and the thousands of cell phones confiscated from prisoners each year. To prove the point, every week staff are escorted off prison grounds, having been ratted-out as trafficking contraband. Staff, however, are not prosecuted for their criminal acts. The CDCR shuns such bad publicity. The offending staff are simply allowed to retire, or shifted to a different state job, in either instance a staff member's pension is not effected; sweet accommodations for a person caught introducing contraband -- drugs, tobacco, cell phones -- into a prison.
Perhaps not surprisingly, staff are condoning of the use of drugs and tobacco by prisoners. Prisoners caught in the act rarely suffer any penalty. Most often, staff simply issues a gentle admonishment -- not that the prisoner ceases using, just not to get caught. A slap on the wrist may accompany a repeat offender, but even then it is issued with a wink and a nod from staff. Staff do little searching of cells, and what searches are conducted are, at most, perfunctory. The CDCR conducts no random testing of prisoners to detect the use of illicit drugs, tobacco, or "pruno", despite the ease and critical importance (safety and security) of such testing, as well as an indicator of a prisoner's unsuitability for parole as a drug abuser. Only prisoners who have been caught and punished previously for drug use are required to provide scheduled urine samples. Prison made alcohol could be detected by the simple use of breathalyzers, as are commonly used in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but not used by the CDCR. Additional evidence of staff's lackadaisical attitude towards drugs and tobacco abuse is evidenced by the dearth of drug treatment programs offered to prisoners by the CDCR. Any suggestions by the CDCR that it provides drug treatment programs are misleading. The CDCR does offer Substance Abuse Programs ("SAP") on a few prison yards. SAP enrolls only a few hundred of the tens-of-thousands of prisoner addicts and alcoholics. The efficacy of SAP is doubtful. When a surprise drug testing of SAP prisoners was conducted at Ironwood State Prison, circa 2004, eighty percent of the prisoners tested positive for drug use. And SAP staff have been discovered introducing drugs and other contraband into prisons. Even more problematic is SAP's method of counting the success of its students. SAP counts only its successes, meaning only those prisoners who graduate from the program. SAP conveniently does not count prisoners who are expelled from the program for drug use, or that otherwise quit or fail the program. By all objective accounts, SAP is a failure. What is the CDCR doing to help her addicts?
Currently, the CDCR professes to be conducting research into expanding its drug treatment programs, so that her addicts can be cured of their addictions and safely released back into society, clean and sober. Sounds good, but the truth is much darker. On 24 May, 2013, Kathleen L. Dickenson, Director of Adult Institutions, CDCR, issued a statewide memorandum informing all prisoners of "random urinalysis" testing. Test results would set a baseline of the number and scope of treatment program required to deal with the addiction problems of prisoners. But not only were prisoners given advance notice, the testing would be random, and voluntary. Voluntary. Prisoners would not be required to provide urine samples. Prisoners would be asked if they wished to participate in the random testing, but would not be forced to do so. How many addicts did Dickenson expect would participate in her advanced notice and random testing? From this writer's observations of the testing it can be reported that addicts were not lining up to participate, and the testing results would no doubt bear that out. Flawed testing methodology (advance notice, random, voluntary); will it be of any surprise if the CDCR might soon argue that there is no drug problem at all, hence no need for treatment programs? The darker reality is that the CDCR is creating the problem, then releasing untreated, drug addicted, prisoners upon the public. A written request for explanation of her testing methodology was sent to Dickenson on 9 July, 2013. She never responded.
There is argument that the federal government could stop the flow of narcotics into the United States, if she wished to. The same argument could be made regarding the CDCR. Without drugs, police officers would be free to pursue violent and dangerous criminals, prosecutors would have to find honest employment, judges would have time for more serious judicial matters, and prisons would be practically obsolete, hence prison staff would be out of a job; lucrative employment and the bundles of cash "earned" from trafficking drugs, tobacco, cell phones and other contraband into prisons. Prison medical staff are also to blame for facilitating drug misuse by prisoners; a topic we can explore another time.
David Scott Harrison
San Quentin State Prison @ 3-N-13
San Quentin, CA 94974
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