The problem of people smuggling contraband into jails is as old as jails themselves, and it’s impossible to stop it completely.
The Gazette asked Capt. Craig Strouse, assistant administrator of the Rock County Jail, about the problem last week, after it was learned two women had overdosed on heroin they had brought into the jail.
“Addictions don’t stop when somebody comes into the facility, so it’s not uncommon that stuff is smuggled in through a body cavity,” Strouse said.
At least one of the overdosing inmates was revived with Narcan, according to a criminal complaint. Afterward, she turned over the rest of the drug that she had secreted in an intimate area.
The drug tested positive for both heroin and fentanyl, a combination seen in many local overdose deaths in recent years.
Heroin is not the only thing inmates smuggle into the jail. Cigarettes are the most common banned substance jailers see, Strouse said.
Preventing smuggling altogether seems impossible.
The law allows someone sentenced to jail to be strip-searched, but many jail inmates are there because of pending cases, probation or parole violations or for not paying fines.
Legal precedents suggest it would be OK to strip-search anyone who will be in jail for more than 14 hours, Strouse said, but Rock County won’t go there on a regular basis.
“We we don’t find many things on a strip search, and they’re pretty intrusive,” Strouse said.
Jailers will perform strip searches if they have reason to believe the inmate is concealing something, he added.
But if an inmate goes so far as to swallow something, or secrete it in a bodily orifice, jailers won’t find it, Strouse said.
State law prohibits jailers from performing body-cavity searches.
A cavity search must be performed by a medical professional, and that usually requires a search warrant, Strouse said.
To get a judge to approve a search warrant means authorities would need evidence that they were likely to find something.
X-rays or other scanning devices would be extremely costly. And even if used, the question of how many times a person could be exposed to the radiation over a lifetime would come up, Strouse said.
The most common ways to look for contraband are pat-down searches and a metal detector, which can tip jailers to the presence of lighters, cellphones, weapons or items that could be made into weapons, Strouse said.
“It’s a significant concern,” Strouse said about drugs in the jail.
“We’re better (at dealing with overdoses) than we were 20 years ago,” Strouse added, in part because of Narcan, which can sometimes stop an overdose from heroin and related drugs, but not cocaine and other non-opiates.
Another change is the 24/7 presence of a medical professional at the jail—normally a nurse who can contact a doctor.
Strouse could point to only one major change in stopping contraband in recent years: Inmates are no longer allowed to use their own underwear or socks, or to receive these items.
The county started providing all underwear about 10 years ago because people were sewing contraband into the clothing, Strouse said.
Strouse noted that inmates who have work-release privileges arrive and leave every day, and every re-entry is an opportunity to smuggle something in.
Jailers will “shake down” cells and common areas from time to time, Strouse said. One thing that will prompt a search is the smell of tobacco smoke.
The Huber dorm, where work-release inmates stay, sees the most shake-downs.
The most common items jailers find are tobacco and lighters, Strouse said. They also find marijuana, synthetic marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin/fentanyl and items that can be made into shanks, or makeshift knives.
A common smuggling route is the mail, so jailers inspect it, Strouse said.
Liquefied LSD or other drugs can be absorbed in the paper of a letter, so experienced jailers look for telltale indications the paper has been wet, Strouse said.
They also scrutinize anything that is glued, such as a stamp.
“We obviously search anything that looks altered,” Strouse said.
Jailers find contraband several times a week, Strouse said. He didn’t have statistics on smuggled heroin but guessed it happens less than once a month, probably several times a year.