Drugs behind Bars

Sep 15 2017

Drugs behind Bars

When drug users are finally caught and end up in prison, family members can sometimes be under the false pretense that “Now they’ll be safe and forced to quit,” assuming, as many people do, that drugs won’t be available in prison. However, the prevalence of drugs in prison is much akin to the availability on the outside. Inmates hoping to make a buck have come up with some inventive ways to smuggle drugs into prison. Ex-cons spoke to the Daily Beast this week about how insidious the drug problem is and how easy it is to get the drugs inside.

One ex-convict, named Stone, admits in the article that you just have to find a good mule. He says, “Once I get a woman interested enough to come visit, I start slipping a piece of candy in her mouth when I kiss her. After a couple of visits this becomes routine. Then one day at visiting I’ll concoct a story, I owe a debt. I need you to bring some weed in that my brother has for me. When she asks how I just remind her how I’ve been slipping the candy into her mouth when we kiss. She nods in understanding and I tell her that my brother is going to wrap up the weed in little balloons and when we kiss she can slip the balloons into my mouth and then I’ll swallow the balloons. Once I get her to agree I’ll convince her to start bringing in more profitable drugs like heroin.” Other methods of prison drug smuggling are paying off guards, contraband being brought in via food service boxes, and drones dropping drugs off on the recreation yard.

So how many prisoners are taking advantage of buying drugs in prison? According to the Washington Post, roughly 85 percent of inmates are addicts or have at least committed a crime related to drugs, so the amount of users is thought to be high. Inmates looking for some means of emotional escape make marijuana and heroin especially popular. Prisoners somehow find the cash for their habit from well-meaning visitors and friends.  The question is, if drug use is so prevalent in a government institution, then why aren’t prison officials doing random drug tests and mandating treatment for prison inmates?

The problem is that the government spends very little money on prevention and treatment for prison populations. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that only 11 percent of inmates with addiction issues received treatment at federal and state prisons or local jails.  Big mistake. Joe Taxpayer then typically spends almost 100 times as much on recidivism over treatment as the addict bounces in and out of jail.

Politicians, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who favor incarceration over treatment for drug related offenses better wake up and smell the coffee. Other countries, Portugal in particular, have seriously decriminalized drug related crime and devoted significant dollars to prevention and treatment instead, and this method has proven very successful. They began the program back in 2001 and Portugal’s drug use rates remain below the European average – and way lower than the United States. Even more importantly, prevention efforts in Portugal seem to be working. Adolescent use there has declined since 2003.

Given the fact that our prison population has quadrupled since 1980, and that a large percentage of this number are simply addicts, wouldn’t it be wise for Washington to at least consider that they are trying to solve this problem the wrong way?