Ohio is the latest state putting anti-drone technology and X-ray body scanners into play in an effort to keep drugs and other contraband out of state prisons, according to The Associated Press.
Fighting the flow of illicit goods into prisons is an uphill battle, said Annette Chambers-Smith, director of Ohio’s prison system.
“Every time we solve one thing, we have to build a better mouse-trap for the next thing,” said Chambers-Smith.
New anti-contraband efforts focus attention on anyone entering prison grounds, including prison staff, visitors, volunteers and prisoners returning from assignments outside the facility.
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction averaged 1,000 drug seizures monthly through much of 2020, though that number has been halved. The issue was highlighted in March when a woman from South Africa was arrested by federal authorities for her role in smuggling drug-infused legal documents into at least five Ohio prisons.
Ohio is investing millions of taxpayer dollars in fighting contraband:
- $25.5M for the installation of 15 X-ray body scanners, with 13 more to be installed by the end of 2022;
- $13.5M annually for anti-drone technology covering the sky over 16 of the state’s 28 prisons;
- $48,500 for a pilot program that includes a pair of hand-held substance-detecting lasers;
- $22.7M annually to digitize incoming prisoner mail, beginning this summer; and
An unknown cost for the establishment of a telephone and email “tip line” to allow prison informants to earn rewards for reporting contraband.
Critics say the money would be better spent on addiction recovery efforts.
“We have people going in with no drug addictions and coming out drug addicts,” said Jeanna Kenney, president of Ensuring Parole for Incarcerated Citizens.
Prisoners agree, noting that prison facilities are already flooded with drugs and contraband.
“It’s kind of moot to put these scanners in place because it’s not going to thwart the problem,” said Jermane Scott, a prisoner at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio.
According to the AP, there have been a number of prison guards and staff members arrested for smuggling illicit goods into Ohio prisons in the last few years, as well as drone drops and even a milk deliverer who allegedly stashed cell phones, marijuana and tobacco in milk cartons being delivered to a prison.
One former correctional officer at Lake Erie Correctional Institution reportedly told an undercover agent, “You can shake me down all day, you’ll never find these [Suboxone strips].”
Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio prison guards’ union, dismissed allegations of dirty officers as “a couple of bad actors as you have in any other organization or employer.”
“The best way to stop things from happening in a prison is to have more staff,” Mabe said.
In 2016, California began installing almost 1,000 scanners, metal detectors and hidden video cameras in state prisons.