Contraband found in Vermont prison search


ST. ALBANS -- Police dogs searched two Vermont prisons this week and found homemade alcohol, chewing tobacco and 11 prescription drug pills at one facility and nothing at the other, police said.

The search was part of a new agreement between the Vermont Department of Corrections and the Vermont State Police that aims to crack down on contraband in prisons.

Four dogs were used on Wednesday to search Northeast Correctional Complex, in St. Albans, and its adjoining work camp for three and a half hours. The dogs found contraband, according to state police.

Three dogs on Thursday searched the Southern State Correctional Facility, in Springfield, for three hours but found no contraband.

No specific event prompted corrections officials to ask for the canine searches, according to Lisa Menard, deputy commissioner of corrections.

"The goal yesterday, today and always is to find and remove drugs from our facilities as well as to prevent them from coming in at all," Menard said in an email.

Police and prison officials are still compiling a list of the seized contraband. No marijuana was found, according to Lt. Tim Oliver.

The dogs searched visitors areas, common areas and cells but not prison staff areas, Oliver said. Contraband is most likely found in prisoner cells. It can be easy to find who is hiding it because the dogs make prisoners nervous, Oliver said.

State police this year have investigated several attempted smuggling and contraband cases at prisons. In April police busted two women who tried to smuggle drugs into Northwest State Correctional Facility, in St. Albans, one of whom was a current inmate and the other a recently released prisoner.

Prison staff and police detectives detect smuggling by using inmate informants, listening to recorded phone calls, checking inmates' monetary accounts, inspecting suspicious letters or packages and using drug-sniffing dogs, police said.

Drugs are sometimes sent through the mail, slipped inside books or even thrown over prison walls, according to the corrections officials. Prison guards have been known to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials into prisons, but searching guards is controversial.

The Legislature earlier this year passed a bill to draw up stricter rules on searching people who visit prisons.

"Frankly, we'll never be able to get it all," Commissioner Andy Pallito said at the time.

State police have investigated approximately 35 incidents of transporting drugs, alcohol or tobacco into prison facilities since the beginning of 2012, according to state police.


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