California Parolees Getting Arrested on Purpose to Smuggle Drugs Into Jail

By McCarton Ackerman 12/03/14

An attempt to realign overcrowded prisons has resulted in unintended consequences.

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California began sending lower-level felons to county prison three years ago in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, but it has unintentionally resulted in a drug smuggling increase throughout these smaller jails.

Prison realignment legislation was created in 2011 and gives California parole violators the chance to serve 10 days in a county jail instead of months in a state prison. However, some of these parolees are getting arrested on purpose so they can sneak drugs behind bars. A common scenario is a parolee committing a minor infraction so they are arrested and then swallowing balloons of drugs that won’t come up in strip searches. Sheriff’s officials have reported heroin, meth, and cocaine entering jails through this method.

“Nobody was ready for this freight train,” said Adam Christianson, President of the California State Sheriff’s Association. “These folks have brought with them prison politics, prison contraband, prison culture. It’s very different than what the deputy sheriffs were previously used to dealing with.”

A survey from the Associated Press found that seven of the 10 most populous counties in California have seen an increase in illegal contraband since the realignment began. Narcotics cases have jumped from 145 in 2011 to 335 so far this year. Several of the counties are already working to address this issue. San Diego County is now using body scanners on parolees entering these jails, but the realignment of parolees has also sparked other issues including an increase in inmate fights and assaults on deputies.

Inmates’ rights advocates also believe that using body scanners on these parolees could be a violation of their freedom. “If you’re putting in scanners, are you going to apply them to everybody? I’d be shocked if they are,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Southern California branch.

Of course, drugs being brought into prison can also yield tragic consequences. Last August, Kentucky inmate Corey McQueary died after allegedly overdosing on methadone. Michael Jones, who was out of jail on a court-ordered furlough, brought a pair of methadone-soaked underwear into the Jessamine County Detention Center and handed it out to his cellmates. He has now been charged with murder, promoting contraband and possession of a controlled substance.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.