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When my son was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison they forgot to mention the other part of his sentence. They forgot to tell me that I would be terrified every day during his stay in prison. They forgot to tell me that he would be subjected to fear and torture. They forgot to tell me about the gangs and violence. They forgot to tell me about the contraband and corruption.

Wait.

Did I say those words? Contraband and corruption.

The use of cell phones is the single most dangerous thing in the prison system today. Georgia DOC has confiscated over 8,000 this year alone.  How on earth do they get inside? Certainly, not by me as I am searched upon entry and can only bring in a clear bag of quarters and my debit card. I don’t even wear a wire bra so I won’t have to go inside and be strip searched.

The Department of Corrections indicates that they are dropped in by drones, or packed in furniture, but this seems highly unlikely that 8,000 got into 31 prisons that way.

Rather than having an all on effort to keep them out, they continue the cycle of search and seizure from the inmates.

Imagine what it looks like during a “shake down” in the prison. A storm of officers boasting batons and pepper spray, bust into the dorms tearing their caged-in living space apart, throwing things and tearing up property to find contraband. The inmates are often left outside during this procedure, irrelevant of the weather, then if contraband is found they are thrown into the “hole” and given disciplinary reports.

Security is the number 1 priority for a prison, and we all understand the importance of maintaining control, but this type of shake down obviously doesn’t work, because if it did, there wouldn’t be any contraband.  Shake downs only create more tension and hostility amongst inmates, officers, staff and families that know the truth about contraband and how it gets into prisons.

CNN reported that an FBI Sting in February 2016 caught 46 officers in what John Horn, US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia deemed, “staggering corruption within Georgia Department of Corrections institutions.”

When looking at the officers that were arrested, it is easy to see the pattern. All but 3 of them are in their 20’s. Young correction officers with an average salary of about $28,000 per year.  This salary wouldn’t meet the federal poverty guidelines for a family of 4, and frankly we all know that can barely sustain an individual who lives on their own, so the temptation for quick cash when you know that everyone is willing to turn a blind eye is inevitable.

The Business Insider stated: “America’s correction officers do tough and dangerous jobs with little compensation, recognition, or hope for advancement.” Sadly, this is accepted as okay in all arenas, when in fact, it is not okay. We must train and pay officers a salary that shows our respect for the work they do.

There is another side to the cellphone contraband story. Lack of communication is a big part of the problem for inmates and their families. The gouging of families by the prison phone industry is driven by for profit companies and is aboondoggle-of-corruption.” Families are desperate to communicate with loved ones, so the cellphones make it easy again to turn a blind eye on it all.

There are hundreds of articles on the subject of corruption in prisons, like this quote from John Podmore on the Penal Reform blog: “The first step in tackling corruption in a prison system is acknowledging the problem, not as a condemnation of it or as the result of a catastrophic event but as a basic recognition of the vulnerability of the system and a desire to manage it effectively and professionally.”

And then there is the free world. Stop anyone on the street and ask them a simple question. “Do you think the prison system is corrupt?” 9 out of ten people will say yes, and then casually turn their back on it.

So if we have all acknowledged the truth that we have corruption and contraband in our prisons and we all agree that everyone is guilty of ignoring it and that what we are currently doing is not working then it is time for us to change it up.

It begins with taking all the hands-off contraband and putting all the hands-on solutions.

 

Kate Boccia is president and CEO of The National Incarceration Association, Inc. and has a son in Georgia state prison.