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Drugs In Prison

This print version free essay Drugs In Prison.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 17 December 2010

Words: 3260 | Pages: 14


This research paper will consist of an analysis of the use and abuse of

illicit drugs within the prison systems on a global basis. With information

gathered from various sources such as the internet and one on one interviews

with an inmate in a male correctional facility and a former inmate of a

female correctional facility I intend to show the rampant flow of drugs in

and out of the prison system, the control of (or lack there of) by prison

officials, the drug gangs and dealers in correctional facilities, the rate

of addiction, and treatments available to inmates suffering from addiction.

The introduction of drugs into the prison system has been an issue for

corrections staff for many years. Prison officials suspect inmate visitors

are the main source of how drugs coming into prisons. Although inmates and

visitors are subjected to a meticulous search prior to contact with one

another, the introduction of drugs is happening on a regular basis. Drugs

can become a major source of income, not only for the inmate, but also for

the individual or individuals who take the drugs into a correctional

facility. Another avenue for inmates is using a correctional officer. Most

of the drugs that are available within a prison arrive by courier through a

corrections officer. Unlike an inmate visitor, a corrections officer is not

subjected to a meticulous search of their person and property. Stephen Shaw

of the Prison Reform Trust was quoted as saying, " Prison officers were said

to turn a blind eye to its use and even to deal it in themselves, to make

their job easier."1

Several states within the United States allow for inmates to have possession

of personal clothing. An inmate receiving personal clothing from home may

also receive drugs that have been hidden within the clothing by a family

member or friend. In addition, drugs have been

known to be sent via the mail to an inmate concealed in packages of all

natures. In the past, the distribution of heroin to an inmate was easily

concealed on a postage stamp or on the glue part of an envelope. The use of

drugs are an issue many people around the world must deal with while

incarcerated or in the "free world."

Throughout the history of prison reformatories inmates have constructed a

mailing system within the prison to communicate with one another. Most of

the communication between one inmate to another is conducted verbally. This

helps to avoid having any physical evidence of wrong doing available to

corrections staff. The introduction, transportation, and sale of drugs

within a prison can result in another felony charge for an inmate. Many

inmates use commissary items such as coffee, sugar, and other items to

conceal the requested drugs. For example, by handing another inmate a cup

of coffee a correctional officer does not know if there are drugs within the

cup unless the officer physically handles the cup. Drugs can also be passed

from one inmate to another by physically putting into the inmates handle as

discreetly as possible.

There are several questions that have been asked over the years regarding

inmates and the use of drugs, such as how is it easier for an inmate whom is

under constant supervision by correctional staff to have easy access to

drugs, why do inmates feel the need to escape from the reality of prison

life and why are existing drug addicts not receiving treatment for their

drug abuse? Several studies have been conducted worldwide delving into why

inmates are using drugs while incarcerated. The authors of an article in

the British Medical Journal (BMI) researched this very issue. They did a

study on 548 men at Durham prison in Elvet, England. All of these men were

awaiting trial. The study found that prior to sentencing many inmates were

using drugs. Specifically "...57 percent were using illicit drugs, 33

percent had problems of drug dependence, and 32 percent had drink[ing]


Similar to the "free world" society, prisons also contain a society behind

the walls. Even though the men and women behind the walls are segregated

from the outside world, the same trials and tribulations you or I must deal

with each day are also dealt with by inmates. When looking at the reason

why inmates feel the need to escape from reality, the same reasoning factors

apply to those whom are not incarcerated choosing to abuse drugs. Low

self-esteem, the inability to cope with the crime or crimes committed that

caused incarceration and the deterioration of family relationships are just

a few of the reasons inmates use to turn to the use of drugs.

At one point in time the high percentage of men and women who are drug

abusers were a minority in the prison population worldwide. In 1998 Paul

Turnbull explored the prison population and found “…30% of prisoners in the

United Kingdom, two thirds of the prison population in the United States,

and 25% of probation and prison population in Sweden are believed to be

dependent drug users (Turnbull and Webster 1998).”# Studies have also found

that inmates with previous drug abuse history are in fear of punishment when

requesting treatment. Inmates who need to have drug treatment do not

receive any assistance as their fear of punishment is overwhelming thus

causing inmates to continue with their drug behavior.

The drug treatment options available to inmates varies on the country in

which the individual is incarcerated. The major treatment activities or

programs offered within the prisons systems of twenty-six countries are

information on drugs, harm reduction advice, detoxification, substitute

prescribing, abstinence-based program, psycho-social help, self-help groups

and relapse prevention.

The abstinence-based program, also known as the therapeutic community

(T.C.), is the most widely used drug prevention and treatment program found

in prisons around the world. The concept of T.C. is to segregate the

inmates who request drug treatment or are court ordered to be in a drug

treatment program from other inmates. The theory in the T.C. program is

segregation from the rest of the prison population is necessary in order to

keep the negative aspects of prison life away from the inmates who are in

treatment as the prison atmosphere works against drug treatment in several

different ways.

During my research of drug abuse within the prison system, I interviewed a

current male inmate confined in the Washington State Department of

Corrections. His name is Jay.3 He is thirty-five years old and has been

incarcerated for the past eleven years. When I asked him about the use of

drugs within the prison system here is what he had to say:

Q. How many in institutions have you been in?

A. I have been incarcerated in eight different institutions over the past

eleven years.

Q. In your opinion is drug use and abuse a problem in America’s prison


A. No, I do not believe drug use and abuse is a problem in America’s prison

system. I don't condone the use of heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine but

marijuana does not cause fights or violence within the prison. The use of

physiological drugs prescribed by physicians within the prisons are having

the same affects on inmates as does heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines.

Q. Are drugs a major factor in violence in the institution?

A. Sometimes, depending on the situation. There can be territorial beefs

between different individuals. Such as the white boys who usually have

crystal (methamphetamine) or the Hispanics who usually have weed

(marijuana). When the different groups get involved with a drug that is not

their usual business it can interfere with another groups business. That

can cause serious problems up to and including fights.

Q. In your opinion how do drugs come into the institution?

A. I decline to answer that question.

Q. In your opinion, how do the authority figures handle the drugs issue?

A. If they don't have their hands into it (the introduction of drugs to the

institution) then they try to be by the book.

Q. Are there treatment programs available to inmates?

A. Yes. There’s N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous), A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

and C. D. (Chemical Dependency).

Q. Are there penalties for being caught with drugs?

A. Yes, there are penalties for being caught with drugs.

Q. Are the penalties for being caught with drugs severe?

A. The severity of the penalty depends on who catches you, what type of

drug you have or what the officers think you might have, how many times you

were previously caught, who writes the major infraction, and who does the

major infraction hearing.

Q. Are you required to do drug tests?

A. Yes. Anytime an officer calls your number for a drug test you are

required to submit a urine sample to be tested.

Q. Are there penalties for testing positive?

A. A positive on a drug test gets you a major infraction.

Q. Are the penalties for testing positive on a drug test severe?

A. It depends again on who writes the major infraction and whether or not

you’ve had a positive drug test in the past. You could lose good time and

be sent to the hole or you could just be sent to the hole and have the loss

of good time suspended. It all depends on the situation.

I also had the opportunity to interview a former female inmate of the

Washington State Department of Corrections. Her name is Lynn# and she is

twenty-five years old. When I asked her about her experiences with the use

of drugs in the women’s prison system here is what she said:

Q. How many institutions have you been in?

A. I have been incarcerated at one woman's institution.

Q. For how many years were you incarcerated?

A. My original sentence was twenty months which is almost two years;

however, a new state law allowed for my sentence to be reduced by half. I

served a total of ten months out of the twenty month sentence.

Q. In your opinion is drug use and abuse a problem in America’s prison


A. In my opinion the use of drugs and the abuse of drugs is a problem in

America's prison system. Many individuals who become incarcerated are in

prison due to the use of drugs. In addition, I know of several women that

were on drugs at the time their respective crime was committed.

Q. What are the primary drugs you believe to be abused in your opinion?

A. In the women's prison I was at several different types of drugs can be

obtained. Some people use other inmates prescription drugs such as vicodin

or percoset. Heroin, marijuana, and cocaine were also popular within the

prison but they are much harder to come across.

Q. Are drugs a major factor in violence in the institution?

A. Although it may sound like the use of drugs would make people more

violent, this would actually be false. At the prison I was at there was a

saying many of us used, "A medicated prison is a happy prison." Most of the

inmate population at this prison was on medication for one thing or another.

Whether or not the drugs were prescribed by the clinic or obtained from

another source, the drugs did what they were supposed to do. They made the

time in prison a little more bearable.

Q. In your opinion how do drugs come into the institution?

A. Most of the drugs brought into the women's prison was by the

correctional officers. The majority of correctional officers were men and

several of the officers would bring the drugs in for sexual favors from

inmates. There are also instances where a visitor to the institution would

bring the drugs in for their friend or family who was incarcerated at the


At the prison I was incarcerated at it is illegal for a male correction

officer to conduct a pat search. In addition, correction officers cannot

touch certain areas on a woman as it violates privacy of a woman's body.

Woman who transport drugs from a visitor back to their unit can put the

drugs inside of their bra or around their pelvic area and when they are

being pat searched to go back to their unit the drugs are undetected by an

officer. This is riskier than swallowing the balloons of drugs and waiting

for them balloons to pass through your system.

Q. In your opinion, how do the authority figures handle the drugs issue?

A. Prison is a society all of it's own. Just like the "free world",

correctional officers make small attempts to stop the introduction of drugs

into the institution. I say a small attempt because again most of the drugs

are brought in by the correctional officers themselves and just like cops

they stick together to cover one another.

Q. Are there treatment programs available to inmates?

A. Yes, there are treatment programs available but they are hard to get

into. When I was incarcerated the primary focus for drug treatment remained

on those inmates sentenced under the Drug Offender Sentencing Act (DOSA) or

had court ordered treatment. The inmates that made the choice that they no

longer wanted to abuse drugs were put on a waiting list and the chances of

being able to received treatment while incarcerated was slim.

Q. Are there penalties for being caught with drugs?

A. Yes, there are penalties for being caught with drugs.

Q. Are the penalties for being caught with drugs severe?

A. The severity of the penalty depended on who caught you, what type of

drug you had, how many times you were previously caught, who wrote the major

infraction, and who conducted the major infraction hearing. (A major

infraction is determined by Revised Code of Washington statues. A guilty

determination on a major infraction can send an inmate to solitary

confinement or the "hole" for a specified length of time.)

Q. Are you required to do drug tests?

A. Yes, you must do a drug test anytime a corrections officers tells you

to. Also each time you are transferred to a different institution you have

to do a drug test.

Q. Are there penalties for testing positive?

A. If you are not able to provide a specimen within one hour of starting

the collection process it is considered a suspicious urine analysis (UA) and

you are sent to solitary confinement for 30 days. The 30 solitary

confinement, if not longer, also applies for a UA coming back positive.

Q. Are the penalties for testing positive on a drug test severe?

A. It depends on what you consider to be severe. Personally spending time

in solitary would not have been too bad because it gets crazy being around

women twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The time to be alone

would have been nice. I personally do not use drugs so that would not have

been my reasons for being sent to the hole. The reality is that taking the

chance of having to spend time in the hole or losing good time is sometimes

worth it to someone who wants to escape the madness that prison life can


As you can see the opinion of the use of drugs within prison is different

between male and female institutions. Even with these differences, the

issue of drugs within our prison systems is still a major concern for

correction officers, police officers, and other groups that make up the

criminal justice system. The United States has taken the issue of drugs

within the prison system serious to the point of President Williams Clinton

issuing a “No Tolerance on Drugs Policy” within the American prison system.

A 1999 President Clinton issued a statement that “$215 Million for the most

comprehensive drug supervision ever” and “Roughly $120 Million for drug-free

prison initiatives.”#

Globally the introduction of drugs can be seen in all countries around the

world. From the United States to England to New Zealand, drugs within the

prison system can be evidenced. A report issued by the Health Research

Board Exploratory in Ireland found that many inmates who used drugs while

incarcerated did not start the abuse of drugs after incarceration. In

addition the report found that fifty-seven percent of inmates using drugs

chose to use heroin.# In Germany the major problems within the prison

system is not limited to overcrowding, it includes a sub-population of drug

abusers infected with HIV and AIDS. The use of intravenous drugs

complicated by the unwillingness or the inability to stop drug use because

of a serious physical reaction has caused for the numbers rise among the

transmission of HIV between inmates.#

In conclusion, all countries, regardless of race, creed or religion are

faced with the impending issue of drugs within the prison systems. A couple

questions that have been raised are, should we allow the legalization of

marijuana or cannabis within the prison system since the affects of cannabis

do not cause inmates to become violent? Would the legalization of cannabis

help inmates or cause further problems for corrections staff? Is the best

treatment option for inmates the abstinence-based program or should further

research into other treatment programs be looked at? I agree that cannabis

should be legalized for inmates. The affects of cannabis to relieve and

cause an individual to become more relaxed is a proven fact by physicians

around the world. Ultimately we must look at all the avenues available to

help inmates to cope with prison, life and to receiving drug treatment that

they need.

1. http://www.fitting-up.org.uk/drugsinprison.htm#Controlling_prisoners



3. http://www.pompidou.coe.int/English/penal/prison/dmop-e041.htm

4. “Jay” is the name used in order to protect his anonymity.

5. “Lynn” is the name used in order to protect her anonymity.

Drugs In Prison



American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0978/is_2_27/ai_78917485) Statistical data for federal drug treatment programs.

Drugs in Prison (http://www.fitting-up.org.uk/drugsinprison.htm) The drug problem in European prisons.

Drug Mis-using Offender in Prison after release (http://www.pompidou.coe.int/English/penal/prison/dmop-e041.htm) Drug treatment in prison and aftercare: a literature review and results of a survey of European countries.

Drug use in prison (http://www.rte.ie/news/2001/0704/prison.html) Provides detailed information about drug use in prison in Ireland.

Interview with Seraiah Williams (in person) First hand account of drug trafficking, use, abuse, effects, and treatment in a Washington State female correctional facility.

Interview with Kaai Williams (in person) First hand account of drug trafficking, use, abuse, effects, and treatment in a Washington State male correctional facility.

Prison Information Handbook (http://www.pars.org.nz/prison_information_handbook.htm) General information about prisons in New Zealand.

Schaffer Library of Drug Policy (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GovPubs/cjstcha.htm) A Criminal Justice System Strategy for Treating Cocaine-Heroin Abusing Offenders in Custody.

Substance Use In Prisoners The Norm Rather Than The Exception (http://www.docguide.com/dg.nsf/PrintPrint/1930E4546A3C26C7852564CA00574711) An article detailing drug use in UK prisons.

The Eye of the Needle (http://news.scotsman.com/columnists.cfm?id=1207092004) An article about an inmate detailing drugs use and authority’s attitude in Scotland.

The Prevention of Infectious Diseases in Prison (http://www.drugtext.org/library/articles/florenz.html) The effects of drugs and the spread of Aids and other diseases in prisons as a direct effect of drug abuse.

Zero Tolerance for drugs in Prison (http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/Work/010599.html) Presidents Clinton’s No tolerance drugs policy for the American Prison system.