PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County Sheriff David Favro says arrests for promoting contraband in the Clinton County Jail have increased in the past year.
“We’ve had significantly more arrests for promoting prison contraband ... because we’ve been more vigilant,” he said.
Contraband poses a risk for both inmates and jail staff alike.
“It can mean an inmate’s life and a officer’s life” if dangerous contraband gets by an officer’s watchful eyes, he said.
Fortunately, Favro said, “I can’t think of the last situation we’ve had where an officer was injured from an inmate weapon in the facility.”
The most recent available statistics for what the state refers to as “unusual incidents” in state facilities, among them Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, are from 2011.
Ninety-six percent were resolved without any injury to staff, with only two serious injuries that year, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Unusual Incident Report.
New York state designates two degrees of promoting prison contraband.
First-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, refers to introducing or making, obtaining or possessing dangerous contraband, while the same charge in the second degree, a misdemeanor, refers to any kind of contraband, even if it’s not necessarily dangerous, according to New York State Penal Law.
Some narcotics are considered dangerous contraband, Favro said.
About 90 percent of the contraband arrests in the County Jail are drug-related, he said, adding that he can’t remember a time where a visitor has attempted to pass a weapon like a razor blade or knife to an inmate.
The percentage of state prison contraband arrests that are drug-related was not available.
About 23 prison-contraband incidents in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties have appeared in the New York State Police’s daily blotter since June.
The Sheriff’s Department must comply with visitor rights that are determined by the state, but the regulations make it easier for visitors to pass drugs to inmates, Favro said.
“They permit inmates to have a brief embrace, a hug and a kiss on the lips from their visitor,” he said. “One of the most common ways of transferring (drug) contraband from a visitor to the inmate is through that kiss.”
In some cases, a visitor might put drugs in part of a latex glove, tie it off, conceal it in his or her mouth and pass it to the mouth of the inmate, Favro said.
Even if officers check the mouths of visitors and inmates, drugs can slip still through the jail walls.
“There’s only so much you can do. It’s very easy to conceal those.”
Items that visitors may give to inmates at the County Jail include magazines, books and greeting cards.
Sifting through items brought to inmates is “a labor-intensive process,” Favro said.
Some visitors place drops of LSD or “blotter acid” in the pages of books and magazines, and since the acid is often clear-colored, it can be difficult to detect, he said.
Each page of a book or magazine must be inspected for marks that could indicate the presence of a drug, he said.
Visitors have also tried to sneak the drug suboxone into the jail.
“It’s very popular because it comes in thin strips,” he said.
The paper-thin strips can be slipped into greeting cards and the bindings of books, the sheriff said.
Favro said the Sheriff’s Department will be using drug dogs during visiting times at the jail more frequently.
In state prisons, weapons, drugs, alcohol, cellphones, memory cards and illegal clothing are all considered contraband, said DOCCS spokesperson Tom Mailey.
Mailey said inmates are searched for contraband on a regular basis.
A statistic outlining the origin of illegal items — how much is fashioned by inmates and how much is brought in by visitors — was not immediately available from DOCCS or the Clinton County Jail.
While visiting prison, visitors are not permitted to give any item to an inmate without staff permission, according to the DOCCS Visiting Program Guide.
Any violation by either an inmate or a visitor can lead to suspension of visiting privileges.
When incoming inmates are booked at the Clinton County Jail, it is not uncommon for officers to find drugs or weapons in the person’s possession, Favro said.
In any given month of 2011, promoting prison contraband occurred at a higher rate than any other category of unusual incident, among them inmate self-injury, disruptive behavior and escape, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Unusual Incident Report for 2011.
In total, 2,453 incidents of prison contraband in state prisons were reported that year.
Contraband was most often found in housing units.
There were 2,790 inmates in Dannemora’s Clinton Correctional Facility in 2011 and 439 unusual incidents recorded that year.
Weapons were used in 27 percent of unusual incidents statewide.
The three most frequently used weapons other than physical force were cutting weapons, a string or rope, razor blades and “unspecified weapons.”
Prison-issued toiletry items like razors can be used as weapons, so DOCCS has certain protocol for the use of these everyday items by inmates.
In the main building at Clinton Correctional, inmates are given a single-blade disposable razor and a weekly razor inspection is conducted, Mailey said.
In the Clinton Correctional Annex, however, inmates are issued a one-time-use razor that must be returned to staff, he said.
Each morning at the Clinton County Jail, safety razors are given to inmates who wish to shave then collected about 15 minutes later, Favro said.
“They all have to be accounted for.”
Disciplinary measures vary in state prison depending on the circumstances, Mailey said.
“Each case is independently investigated, and any punishment would be determined through our disciplinary process,” he said.
“If the incident is of a criminal nature, then the New York State Police are notified and may handle it as a criminal matter.”
All security personnel working in both state prisons and the Clinton County Jail are trained to recognize contraband, Mailey and Favro said.
If officers at the Sheriff’s Department find contraband in an inmate’s possession and the offense warrants a charge, they fill out court paperwork and submit it to the District Attorney’s Office and bring the inmate to court for re-arraignment if the charges are approved.
A judge may choose to set bail for the new charges or deny bail, Favro said.
In accordance with state law, the Sheriff’s Department charges a $25 disciplinary surcharge for every contraband case.
Favro said that revenue has amounted to more than $3,000 over the course of a year.
The fact that virtually no officers at the Clinton County Jail have been harmed in recent history with contraband is a testament to their vigilance, Favro said.
But the danger remains.
“You’ve got to catch it.”
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Here are some contraband cases that were recently investigated by State Police:
On July 26, Clinton Correctional Facility inmate,Jeffrey T. Russell, 28, was arrested on July 26 for first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. The Dannemora prison case was reported to the State Police on Aug. 1, 2012.
On July 31, Clinton Correctional Facility inmate Tenell Collins, 24, was arrested and charged with first-degree promoting prison contraband and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both felonies. The initial report was made to State Police on Feb. 13. He was processed, arraigned and returned to the prison, State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Trooper Jen Fleishman said.
On June 13, inmate Damien Rosado, 21, in Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone was arrested and charged with 1st degree promoting prison contraband following a March 20 incident.
Clinton Correctional Facility inmate Melvin Lloyd, 25, was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon 3rd degree and promoting prison contraband 1st degree. The case was reported to State Police on March 26, according to a State Police blotter entry. Lloyd was arrested on Aug. 13.
On July 31, Clinton County Correctional inmate Garrick Brown, 27, was arrested and charged with first-degree promoting prison contraband and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both felonies.
On Aug. 8, Franklin County Jail inmate Jordan S. Reynolds, 23, was arrested and charged with first-degree promoting prison contraband after an incident reported to State Police on July 24.
Ten other contraband cases that appeared in the State Police's daily blotter since June are pending.