The Prison Drug Economy is Booming

By Seth Ferranti 06/24/16

The supply of drugs in prison continues to meet the demand despite correctional officials attempts to eliminate the growing problem. 

The Prison Drug Economy is Booming

Our nation's prisons are awash with illegal drugs, fueling rampant addiction and abuse. We are bombarded daily with news reports on the drug epidemic and how out of control it is. It’s gotten so bad that the acting head of the New York state prison system, Anthony Annucci, asked prisoners by letter to refrain from smoking marijuana and K2, both of which are widely available in New York prisons.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Thomas Mailey stressed in a prepared statement that “the Department has expanded drug interdiction efforts with additional K9 units being brought on board. In addition, DOCCS is initiating a vendor-based package room program which will further reduce the ability to smuggle drugs into our prisons. The Department will continue to relentlessly pursue any person that violates these rules in order to safeguard our institutions.”

At Attica and Wyoming correctional facilities in upstate New York, several inmate visitors have been indicted for their smuggling attempts, leading prison officials to maintain that visitors are the main culprits when it comes to the introduction of illicit contraband items such as cocaine, marijuana, K2, painkillers, heroin and opiates into the institution. Cellphones and tobacco are two other big problems that help fuel the underground economy which exists in the prison industrial complex

“I don’t understand how they can lock me up for drugs when they can’t even keep the drugs out of prison,” Judge, a 38-year-old Pittsburgh native who’s doing time in the federal system for heroin, tells The Fix. “I did heroin for years in prison. I’m clean now, but if I wanted to do it, it’s here. All you need is money.”

Correctional officials have always had a hard time keeping drugs out of prisons. They’ve implemented numerous ways to combat the introduction of drugs, but inmates always figure out a way to circumvent the safeguards in place, leading prison authorities to get drastic. In New Hampshire, full body scanners are the latest interdiction effort and airport-style, drug detection hand swabs have been used in California.

“The staff like to blame the visitors for all the drugs coming in,” Judge says. “But staff is bringing them in too. That’s their hustle. Or if they don’t bring in drugs, they bring in cellphones which prisoners use to set up drug deals and tell their people how to package the drugs and bring them in. Or even schedule over-the-fence deliveries with the guys from the camps outside the fences.” 

A Bureau of Prisons report claimed that drugs are present in almost all federal prisons. It's used a two-pronged strategy to keep drugs out—1) stopping the supply of drugs and 2) reducing the demand for drugs—to little effect. With a bored and dissatisfied inmate population constantly scheming to get drugs in, the problem will not go away anytime soon. And if the latest headlines are indicative of the scope of the problem, then something seriously needs to be done to alleviate it.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.