by David M. Reutter
The most glaring result of America's war on drugs has been the explosion of the nation?s prison population. Over 75 percent of all prisoners are either doing time for drug related offenses or were under the influence of drugs when they committed their crimes. When that statistic is considered, it seems that keeping drugs out of jails and prisons would be a top priority.
Yet, New York's jails and prisons are infested with drugs. They enter the system in various ways: through food packages, contact visits, and from guards seeking to make extra money. "We've heard from some it's even easier [to get drugs in prison than on the streets], and there's less chance of getting caught," said Erie County, New York, Deputy District Attorney Molly Jo Musarra.
The statistics certainly show that more drugs are within New Yorks prison system than other states'. Random drug tests in New York prisons are 10 times more likely to be positive than those in Pennsylvania.
Because New York does fewer random tests than other states, critics say that number may be conservative.
The drug problem is greater in maximum-security prisons. While less than 30 percent of the prison population is held in such prisons, over 60 percent of drug incidents occur in those prisons.
"We have a terrible problem with heroin in Attica. Drugs are rampant," said guard Rick Harcrow, a union steward at the prison. Prison officials dispute the rank and file's assessment. "We don't have heroin rampant in Attica," says Linda Foglia, New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYDOC) spokeswoman. "There is absolutely no evidence to support these claims."
The evidence, however, is hidden by NYDOC officials. After Attica prisoner Louis Telese died of a drug overdose, his family was told it was natural causes. "We were never told he had drugs in him," said Louis' brother-in-law Eddie Reid. "We were told it was a heart attack."
Jitendra Lakram, 23, was sent to Attica to serve a 12 ½ to 25 year sentence. Prior to his imprisonment he was smoking marijuana and stealing cars. On November 22, 2004, he was found dead in his cell of a heroin overdose.
"They told us he died of a heart attack. If the lawyer hadn't investigated, I would have never known," Jitandra's mother said. "I kept calling the investigator in [NYDOC], and he never has given an answer."
When you're in denial yourself, it's easy to try to deceive others. On average, three prisoners per year die in NYDOC prisons from drug overdoses. Around 70 percent of NYDOC's positive drug tests are for marijuana; 30 percent for heroin. All this sounds like evidence of a drug problem in NYDOC prisons.
Many families of drug addicts are relieved and hopeful when they hear their loved one is in jail or prison. "He's not on the street. He is (supposed to) dry out and get the help he needs," said a family member of Michael Ulahoff. "They're not supposed to get that stuff when they are in there."
Before going to prison to serve a three-year sentence, Ulahoff had developed a crack cocaine habit. In prison, his drug habit worsened. In October 2003, Ulahoff and his cellmate were "doing lines" of heroin.
Ulahoff died of an overdose the next morning. His family went from hoping he could beat his drug habit while in prison to burying him because of an overdose in prison.
This begs to question of how drugs are so readily available in a secure government facility like a prison. Everything, including people, is searched prior to entering a prison. The methods cited by prison officials range from realistic to pure fantasy.
"A good sloppy wet kiss could transfer a couple of bundles of heroin, no problem," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bruce. This ignores the fact that a visitor must converse with guards upon entering the prison, and they are usually asked to open their mouth to inspect for contraband.
Yet, visitors do bring drugs to prisoners. Veronica Good brought fifty bags of heroin to her boyfriend at the Auburn Correctional Facility. "My boyfriend Jose Colon arranged with these inmates to have their wives call me and make arrangements for me to meet them and get the drugs," Good later told police. "And I bring [drugs] up to the jail, and I give it to Jose during the visits." Good stowed the balloons of drugs in her clothes.
Drugs also enter prisons through packages that contain food, clothes, or shoes. What prison officials try to overlook or hide is the amount of drugs that enter the system through prison guards. On average, 20 NYDOC employees are disciplined or resign each year because of drug activity. From 2000 to mid-2006, a total of 130 guards were removed from their jobs.
Because NYDOC refuses to release information about guards involved in drug activity, it is hard to grasp the true magnitude of that activity or what results therefrom. What is clear is that few cases result in prosecution. The matter is usually quietly disposed of.
"When they [NYDOC] find out an employee or volunteer is bringing drugs in, they quietly get rid of them," said State Sen. Dale Volker. Not all matters, however, can be kept quiet.
One case that could not be kept quiet involved 20 year NYDOC veteran guard Joseph Lattanzio. He often made drug deals on his cell phone while perched in the guard tower at Wende Correctional Facility. An FBI wiretap snared Lattanzio, his brother, and another person. They all had one thing in common: They were NYDOC guards selling drugs.
Lattanzio says he never sold drugs to prisoners, but his customer list included nine other NYDOC guards. The FBI turned that list over to NYDOC officials, who never confronted those guards.
"I think the state somehow put a stop to it," said Lattanzio of the investigation into other guards. "I don't think they wanted anymore bad publicity than they got from me, but if you are wrong, you are wrong."
What is really wrong is that America's mainstream media and political structure ignore the force that is the nation's war on drugs. "If you can't keep drugs out of a facility like Attica, there's no hope of keeping them out of other institutions like schools," said Gerald L. Stout, district attorney for Wyoming County. For that matter, there's no hope of keeping them off the black market of the streets. History buffs know we learned that lesson with prohibition.
Sources: Buffalo News
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login