People smuggling drugs into prison are creative. They send drugs through the mail, put illicit material inside books or even throw them over prison walls. But most often, contraband comes in when prisoners are allowed to have visitors, state officials say.
Police in April busted two women who tried to smuggle drugs into the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans, a current inmate and a prisoner who had recently been released from that facility. In the past few months, police have also investigated several other contraband smuggling attempts at correctional facilities.
The week after the St. Albans smuggling arrests, though the timing was coincidental, the Legislature passed a bill to crack down on smuggling.
The bill, S.218, asks the Department of Corrections to draw up stricter rules on searching people who enter correctional facilities. The rules may include prison guards.
Searching corrections officers is a prickly subject with the Vermont State Employees Association. Both the union and DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito agree the place to start is with visitors.
Pallito said he is working on rewriting visitation rules to punish inmates found to be participating in smuggling contraband by temporarily suspending their right to have visitors.
He will also consider temporarily suspending contact visitation rights for inmates who test positive for drugs in urine samples, he said.
DOC will keep track of whether those two measures cut down on the amount of contraband in prison, Pallito said.
Three or four employees a year are disciplined for bringing in contraband, Pallito said.
"Frankly, we'll never be able to get it all," Pallito said.
Cases of contraband in Vermont facilities occur a few times a year and are low compared to other states, Pallito said.
Correctional officers say contraband comes in on full-contact visitation days.
"If you want to solve this problem your focus needs to be on the visitation," said Steve Howard, the legislative director for the VSEA.
The opiate addiction treatment medication buprenorphine is the most common drug contraband found in facilities, according to DOC. The drug comes in tiny film strips easy to slip inside a letter or book.
DOC must recommend to legislators by Dec. 1, 2015, strategies to prevent contraband from entering DOC facilities.