Recent installation of high-resolution cameras at San Quentin is a small part of the state’s efforts to scrub contraband from its prisons, according to a report produced by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The report cites technology such as high-resolution audio-video surveillance, body and baggage X-ray scanners, various metal and magnetic detectors, and forensic cell phone technology designed to detect and interrupt cellular signals as part of that program, as well as K-9 teams trained to sniff out both narcotics and cellular devices.
These efforts “provide a good foundation for preventing contraband from entering institutions,” said the report.
Data compiled from 2019 through the first half of 2022 reflect these efforts, illustrating a number of trends in the seizure of contraband. The number of seized cellular devices has declined from a high of nearly 10,500 in 2019 to an estimated 7,000 in 2022 — representing a nearly 35% decrease.
Confiscation of drugs has varied widely by substance. Discoveries of heroin, for example, have remained relatively flat: an average of just under 28 pounds per year. But marijuana discoveries spiked in 2021, with 128.7 pounds confiscated, roughly double the amount of the previous year. And seizure of methamphetamines also increased in 2021 before dropping slightly this year.
These data point to the mixed effect of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the accompanying restricted access to prisons statewide — on the introduction of contraband to prison facilities. Suspending “most non-essential movement into the institutions” and cutting off prisoners’ in-person interactions with family, visitors and volunteers might have hindered the smuggling of contraband, the report suggested. It also may have reduced both overdose deaths and the number of arrests of people attempting to introduce contraband.
Overdose-related deaths in the state’s prisons have declined from a high of 63 in 2019 to a six-year low of 22 in 2021. But CDCR has attributed the decline to the rollout of the Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment program and suboxone-based Medication Assisted Treatment, not to contraband prevention efforts.
“CDCR strongly believes a multilayered approach is the most effective way to reduce contraband activity,” the report concludes, including substance use disorder treatment and physical security measures, as well as “dismantling drug distribution systems, disrupting gang activity, and closing avenues of entry for contraband.”
In these ways, CDCR remains committed to reducing contraband, the report said, calling its efforts “critical to disrupting the criminal enterprises that threaten the safety and security of the institutions and the public.”