Contraband sought: Search of the jail includes workers

Written by Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate January 21, 2013 03:45 pm

Cell phones taken briefly, but no misconduct found

Authorities from the Sheriff’s Office and Pelican Bay State Prison conducted a search of the Del Norte County Jail last month, targeting both inmates and employees.

It was prompted by a monitored visitation call in which an inmate mentioned jail officers smuggling contraband into the jail for inmates, said Sheriff Dean Wilson, who coordinated the sweep.

The accusations proved to be unfounded, Wilson said.

“We found nothing that generated any kind of write-ups or discipline,” said Wilson.

While the search was being conducted, cell phones of on-duty staff members were confiscated as a precaution, Wilson said.

Though there was no cause for  disciplinary action found, some  correctional officers went on leave the day of the search, Wilson said. 

While not commenting on specific reasons for the leaves, he did say less than a majority of the six people  currently on leave for various reasons, including medical, began the day of the sweep.

The whole jail was searched — an action that would have taken a few days had Pelican Bay staff not assisted — turning up hidden lighters, tobacco, a few jail-made weapons, a small amount of marijuana and a marijuana pipe, said sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey.

A cell phone suspected of being in the possession of an inmate was not found, Athey said.

“It wasn’t a big issue. It was just a jail search,” said Athey. “Wherever you have a lot of inmates, you have to keep searching.”

Some inmates serving longer sentences will coerce other inmates to get them to smuggle contraband into the jail by threatening them or “they’ll just play on their greed or kindness, if they are already subject to sneaking stuff in,” said Wilson.

This often happens with people who fail a drug test during their Drug Court program, Wilson said.

“They know you come in and out, you’re going to go out, test dirty and come back,” said Wilson. “They make sure when you come back you bring them something or they threaten you.”

Drug Court participants take their tests earlier in the week, knowing what the result is likely to be, and when they arrive for the results Friday, they may already be prepared to smuggle in drugs, Wilson said.

“It’s a constant problem,” said Wilson. “It’s hard for us to stop unless we have reasonable belief or information beforehand.”

When entering the jail, inmates are strip-searched and forced to bend down and cough, but unless there  is a warrant issued to search body cavities, nothing else can be done, Wilson said.

Contraband issues are common in all jails, Athey said.

“We have to keep up that constant vigilance to curtail it and not allow too much in,” said Athey, adding that searches are conducted frequently. “It wasn’t a big issue. It was just a jail search.”

Bringing in Pelican Bay staff also provided another perspective on the jail’s security measures, Wilson said.

Pelican Bay officers advised the Sheriff’s Office staff on common places where inmates are known to hide contraband, as well as sharing some changes in their own procedures that they have adopted recently, Wilson said.

“They showed us methods we could use to make spotting those things faster, quicker and make the sweeps more efficient,” said Wilson.

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