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Suboxone smuggling in prison: Why the NH court decision was dead wrong

Contraband drugs like suboxone are killing inmates, yet courts hamper NH correctional facilities from taking proactive measures


Recent attempts by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) to eliminate possible avenues for drug trafficking have been shut down by the courts.

Earlier this year, NHDOC suspended inmate visits after four suboxone-related overdoses – one fatal – occurred as a byproduct of the inmates exploiting the visitation program as a means to traffic drugs. This was both a reactive and preventive measure implemented by NHDOC in an attempt to keep the facility drug free. As you can see, I used the terms both reactive and preventive. 

Eventually, midway through 2017, NHDOC reinstated visits with some additional limits to the visit program: hugs between visitor and inmate could last no longer then three seconds and inmates had to change underwear before and after the visit.

In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 photo, Investigator Heidi Laramie shows the confiscated drug suboxone, a oral narcotic film, which was found after a smuggling attempt at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 photo, Investigator Heidi Laramie shows the confiscated drug suboxone, a oral narcotic film, which was found after a smuggling attempt at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

NHDOC added these limits to the visit program in an attempt to slow down the amount of drugs entering the facility. Unfortunately, critics believe these limits unfairly restrict the rights of the inmates and their visitors. Just as a reminder, the action committed by the NHDOC was both reactive and preventive.

As we move through the second half of 2017, another attempt by NHDOC to limit drugs coming into its correctional facilities was overturned. NHDOC attempted to eliminate handmade drawings sent to inmates, as these drawings have been used to smuggle suboxone, which can be smeared within the layers of crayons

Again, the good intent effort was shut down by the courts and ridiculed by the ACLU, who asserted that "the state went too far." 

Extreme situations require extreme measures

The measures taken above may seem extreme, but we must be mindful that NHDOC is reacting to an extreme situation. The department is looking to make a concerted effort to minimize drug trafficking and protect lives. When the ACLU states that the measures taken by the state went too far, in my opinion, when it comes to saving lives, I would rather go too far than not far enough.

Keep in mind that the measures taking by NHDOC are reactionary. The department is reacting to a threat that has the ability to take lives. If NHDOC decided to do nothing and let the drugs continue to come in, the public would be quick to argue NHDOC is not doing enough.

It is sad when those who know little about the correctional system overturn attempts to save lives and eliminate a major threat to the safe and secure running of a correctional facility. The actions taken by NHDOC were necessary based on the challenges presented by the inmate population. Instead of the public jumping on the backs of the NHDOC for the logical attempt to slow down contraband, they should be jumping on the backs of the inmate population who chose to manipulate the privileges provided.

Safety and security is at the forefront of correctional decision-making

NHDOC’s concerns relate to the safety and security of all inmates. In order to provide that safety and security, staff may be forced to implement extreme measures. Again, these extreme measures are immediate reactions to secure the safety of the facility. 

When these actions are overturned by critics, it is the critics who should be the ones held responsible for the negative outcomes that will occur. Let staff do what needs to be done and stop putting them in Catch-22 situations that will eventually lead them down a road where they are powerless to address any threat that comes their way.

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