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Twelve Indiana Prison Employees Suspended for Positive Drug Tests, Contraband

by Matt Clarke

In September 2010, Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) officials announced the suspension of a dozen employees at the Pendleton Correctional Facility following a crackdown on contraband smuggling. [See: PLN, Oct. 2010, p.50]. Pendleton houses about 2,000 prisoners and has approximately 600 employees.

The crackdown, which included cell-by-cell searches and drug testing of employees, was instituted after a rash of prisoners tested positive for drugs in mid-August. Employees were drug tested starting on August 30, 2010, and 49 came back positive within the first two days. Eleven of the guards who tested positive admitted to using illegal drugs and were suspended. The others claimed they did not use illicit drugs, and will be further tested to determine if legal prescription medication caused the positive results.

Another DOC employee was suspended after being caught smuggling a cell phone.
Additional employees tested positive for drugs on subsequent days, but the DOC did not release any details about those staff members. The prison had been on lockdown with visits suspended since the rash of positive prisoner drug tests.

“We knew [prisoners at Pendleton] were getting drugs,” said DOC spokesman Doug Garrison. “Visitors can bring them in, people on the outside can throw them over fences or walls, or unfortunately they sometimes can come through staff members.”

Does testing guards for illegal drugs make sense when trying to prevent prison drug smuggling? “If you’re using drugs, you are more prone to need to buy drugs,” said Robert May, an Indiana State Police detective assigned to Pendleton. “An easy way to get money for drugs is to smuggle drugs into prison and get paid for it.”

May used a two-year-old case as an example. In that case, a contract prison kitchen worker smuggled marijuana into Pendleton by compressing it and forming it into the soles of his shoes. “We think he made almost $32,000 doing this over six months,” said May.

According to May, in his five years of prison experience, the most common smuggling method is for visitors or employees to hide drugs, cigarettes or cell phones in body cavities. To counter this, a few months before the lockdown Pendleton installed machines that use puffs of air to detect drug residue on a person’s skin or clothing. May said that reduced the number of visitors and employees attempting to smuggle contraband.

Nonetheless, he had arrested 26 people as of August 2010, compared with 38 in all of 2009. Other state troopers who work at times when May is off-duty have made additional arrests.

May said he only arrests one prison employee for every four-to-five visitors he catches in possession of contraband. “Most of the guards are very diligent and report this stuff,” he said. “They will report a dirty guard.”

According to a 2009 news report, an anonymous Pendleton prison employee stated, “There are [guards] bringing in drugs and contraband into the prison. This goes way up the ladder, way up ... pounds of vacuum-packed tobacco a few weeks ago.”

“I just can’t believe, at least on a widespread basis, that there’s a lot of officers that are turning their head or allowing trafficking to go on at Pendleton,” then-Indiana DOC Commissioner Ed Buss remarked at the time.

In April 2009, Tommy Joe Turner, a former Pendleton guard and supervisor of the prison’s furniture shop, accepted a plea bargain after being charged with felony bribery.

He reportedly allowed tobacco to be smuggled into the shop up to five times in exchange for $500. He received a three-year suspended sentence. Also in April 2009, former Pendleton guard Lee W. Oshier was sentenced to six years’ probation on bribery and conspiracy charges related to contraband trafficking. He was accused of trying to smuggle 20 cell phones, 21 chargers and 14 ounces of tobacco into the facility in a cooler.

Indiana DOC officials said they will continue their vigorous efforts to stop contraband smuggling at Pendleton. However, none of the DOC’s 17 other prisons have been subjected to similar crackdowns that include drug testing employees. Perhaps they should.


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