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In Monticello, New York, an employee from a bail bonds company was recently caught on tape accidentally dropping a small bag of marijuana on the floor at the Sullivan County jail while interviewing an inmate.

When she returned to bail out the inmate, she was arrested and charged with promoting prison contraband and unlawful possession of marijuana, both misdemeanors. While the employee might not have meant to pass the marijuana to the inmate, her possession of the drug while in the facility highlighted the major problem of drug contraband in prisons.

While visitors are known to pass along drugs and other contraband to inmates, prison guards are also known to be involved in this lucrative trade. In 2008, seven New York City correctional officers were arrested and faced drug crime charges after they had agreed with undercover agents to supply marijuana and other drugs to inmates in return for cash payments up to $1,500. In 2003 and 2006, other undercover operations involving city employees as well as correctional officers were arrested for smuggling drugs into city jails in return for cash payments.

In New York, prison contraband is defined as property that is illegal and potentially dangerous to possess inside a prison. Smuggling contraband into correctional facilities is a major problem in every state, especially if correctional officers fail to adequately search visitors or are themselves involved.

Promoting prison contraband in the first degree is a class D felony in New York. “Promoting” is defined as knowingly and unlawfully introducing dangerous contraband into a detention facility, or being an inmate who makes, obtains or possesses dangerous contraband. The penalty carries a prison sentence of not less than two and not more than seven years.

Cell phone contraband in prisons is nearly as prevalent as drugs and could be even more dangerous. Riots or prison uprisings and escapes have been orchestrated by inmates with phones. Gangs can be organized and controlled and outside criminal activities, engineered. Conversations cannot be monitored by officials. Inmates with phones wield power and influence among other inmates and are highly sought after inside prison walls.

Many states treat ordinary prison contraband as infractions or misdemeanors. California is still trying to criminalize possession of cell phones in prison. Currently, the state can only prosecute if the phone was used to commit a crime.

We discuss a case of a bail bonds worker caught dropping marijuana in the Sullivan County Jail. This article is brought to you by Larkin Ingrassia, PLLC.

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