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A state audit of contraband coming into California’s prisons found that drugs continued to infiltrate facilities even after visitor restrictions were implemented due to COVID concerns.
The audit was conducted by the California Office of the Inspector General at four prisons from Mar. 1, 2019 to Jan. 7, 2022 to assess the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s “controlled substances interdiction program.”
The four facilities were not identified in the January report for security reasons.
In the cover letter to CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Macomber, Inspector General Amarik K. Singh said that inmate visitation was not the source of drugs smuggled into the audited prisons.
“We understand that reducing the prevalence of drugs in California’s prison system is an ongoing challenge for the department,” Singh wrote. “However, drugs have entered prisons even after the department implemented COVID-19 response efforts and suspended in-person visiting.
“The avenues for drugs entering prisons during the first year of the pandemic, with visiting restrictions in place, at primary entry points, remained staff, contractors, official visitors, and mail,” Singh stated.
CDCR suspended visitation for incarcerated people from Mar. 11, 2020 through Apr. 10, 2021 to mitigate the potential exposure and spread of COVID, the report noted.
A key finding of the OIG report was that two of the most effective measures to intercept contraband and prevent its distribution in prisons were not put to use enough.
“Despite recognizing that canines are among the most effective resources to both deter and detect drugs, the department under-uses its canine program,” the OIG report stated.
The report said CDCR has the legal authority to use canines to search not only incarcerated people and their property, but also anyone entering prisons, including correctional officers, free staff, volunteers and visitors.
The other effective measure highlighted in the report is electronic drug detection devices, which can include ION scanners, millimeter wave scanners, portable spectrometry, low-dose x-ray body scanners and parcel baggage scanners.
The report said, “The department acknowledges the usefulness of electronic devices in detecting drugs, yet only deploys the devices in limited circumstances.”
The report named illegal street drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as cannabis products that are legal in the state but banned in prisons.
In general, the OIG audit found entrance screening procedures to be inadequate and inconsistently applied, such as those at pedestrian entrances for employees.
“At the three prisons we visited, we observed entrance officers conducting routine bag searches that consisted of glances lasting one or two seconds or officers permitting large bags to be carried into prisons without checking for identification or opening the bags. At times, officers failed to conduct searches at all,” stated the report.
The OIG report did not include comments or responses from CDCR. Officials told The Sacramento Bee in an emailed statement that the department continually assesses ways to implement application of these detection and intervention techniques in a consistent manner statewide.
“Contraband interdiction and focus on curbing overdose deaths as a result of illegal contraband is, and will continue to be a top priority for the department,” CDCR officials stated.
They also said the department is considering improvements to the interdiction process outlined in the OIG’s report and will continue to use a multilayered approach, according to the January article in The Bee.
“This approach includes providing substance use disorder treatment, heightened physical security, dismantling drug distribution systems, disrupting gang activity, and closing avenues of entry for contraband,” CDCR officials stated. “This approach enables CDCR to reduce the amount of contraband entering institutions, minimizing its availability to incarcerated individuals.”