When we think of prisons, we imagine impenetrable walls and cells. However, law enforcement officials and prison experts know that these walls are not as tough as they seem. In many state prison systems, a combination of factors ranging from resourceful inmates to corrupt prison staff has failed to control inmate drug abuse.
When you combine these factors with a surge in the smuggling of contraband cell phones into prison, you have a consistent flow of narcotics including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine into California’s prisons.
DRUG OVERDOSES IN PRISONS
According to recent reports, drug overdoses are among the leading causes of deaths in California’s state prisons. Drug overdoses result in 17 inmate fatalities each year. That is three times the national prison drug overdose death rate, according to a report released in 2016 about prison deaths in California. This rate has been increasing at a steady rate from 2005 to 2015.
In fact, last year, a federal judge had to waive a state law that allows only registered nurses to give the antidote naloxone to inmates who have suffered respiratory failures as the result of a drug overdose.
This court decision sheds light on the magnitude of the drug overdose problem in California’s prisons. And without question, a drug problem exists behind prison walls because drugs are freely available in our prison system.
HOW DRUGS GET INTO PRISONS
Drugs get to prison inmates in many different ways. Visiting relatives or friends might bring it to inmates. In some cases, drugs arrive by mail with the knowledge and complicity of prison staff. And in other cases, they are made available by inmates who smuggle the drugs brought in by associates.
These drug smugglers and dealers have gotten more resourceful by changing their strategies after the state installed x-ray machines and metal detectors in prisons. So, now, they reportedly launch packets containing drugs over prison walls using paintball guns or homemade propane launchers.
So, who controls the drug trade inside prisons? Corrections officials say gangs control much of it. And the prices can be sky-high, too. In Hawaii, corrections officials say the going price for heroin in prison is 10 times higher than what one might find on the street. Drugs can also lead to violence in prisons.
In California, gang-related drug activity is the top cause of violence in prison. A full-blown prison riot could happen because of a drug deal gone awry, officials say.
NEED FOR TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION
What this also means is that not all inmates go into prison with a drug habit, but they may come out with one. Needless to say, prison life can be nightmarish and for many inmates, drugs provide an escape, albeit temporary.
Those who become addicted to drugs in prisons have little or no access to treatment. However, the punishment for prisoners who are caught using drugs behind bars can range from additional time in prison or even solitary confinement, which once again, prevents them from getting much-needed treatment.
The fact that drug users in prison lack treatment and face the possibility of more punishment presents a dire picture for these inmates putting them in a vicious cycle. As California drug crime defense lawyers, we hope the prison system finds a solution to this serious issue.