Drug-Smuggling Prison Guards Are Widespread Problem

By Jed Bickman 10/03/11

California's prison guards may often be corrupted, but the problem affects jails all around the country.

Temptation is higher for lower-paid guards. Photo via

Prison guards and other staff members are often complicit in fueling the active drug market behind bars in state prisons. The Los Angeles Times reports that in recent years in California, three sheriff’s guards have been convicted of smuggling drugs and other contraband into prison facilities, and a fourth was fired for the same offense. Another three are currently being investigated—just last week, the FBI conducted a sting in which an undercover agent allegedly paid a prison guard $1,500 to smuggle him a cell phone into prison. But this may be the tip of the iceberg, and the problem is considered widespread enough that the sheriff’s department got one former officer, who was convicted of smuggling drugs into prisons in 2008, to record a tearful video from behind bars—the state will play it to its 9,000 other guards as a warning. But this is far from being just California's problem. Nationwide arrests of Federal Prison Guards—mostly for smuggling contraband—increased by 90% over the last decade. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said that the guards convicted of smuggling narcotics to prisoners are usually those who face the greatest financial distress; the deputy accused of smuggling the cell phone in the FBI sting had six children to support from two previous marriages. California state prison guards recently signed a lucrative contract with the state under which they can make around a $100,000 a year with unlimited vacation—but guards at county-level jails are paid much less.

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.