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The Federal Bureau of Prisons' Drug Interdiction Activities

Report Number I-2003-002
January 2003


EXECUTIVE DIGEST

Introduction

Illegal drugs are present in almost all Federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) institutions, as evidenced by inmate drug tests, inmate overdoses, drug finds in the institutions, and criminal and administrative cases lodged against inmates, staff, and visitors. This review by the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) Evaluation and Inspections Division examines how drugs enter BOP institutions and what the BOP is doing and can do better to stem the flow of illegal drugs into its institutions.

The harm of drugs in BOP institutions is clear. Drugs disrupt the BOP from providing a safe and secure environment for inmates and staff. Drug abuse is associated with serious inmate misconduct, and it also interferes with the rehabilitative potential of BOP drug treatment programs. In addition, inmates with drug problems who have not received treatment while in prison are more likely to continue criminal activity after their release from incarceration, thereby affecting public safety.

The BOP's strategy to prevent drugs from entering its institutions employs two major components: (1) stopping the supply of drugs through various interdiction activities; and (2) reducing the demand for drugs through drug abuse treatment for inmates. To stop the supply of drugs, BOP interdiction activities focus on the institutions' points of entry such as visitors, staff, mail, the receiving and discharge area, the warehouse, the rear gate, volunteers, and contractors. To reduce the demand for drugs, the BOP offers drug abuse treatment to inmates through various institution-based programs, including drug abuse education (classroom instruction), non-residential (out-patient) drug abuse treatment in BOP institutions, and residential (in-patient) drug abuse treatment in BOP institutions.

The OIG found that inmate visitors, staff, and the mail are the three primary ways drugs enter BOP institutions. We found that while the BOP employs a variety of interdiction activities to intercept smuggling attempts by visitors and through the mail, it has failed to take adequate measures to prevent drug smuggling by its staff. In fact, interdiction activities common in many state correctional systems, such as searching staff, limiting the personal property staff are permitted to bring into the institution, and conducting random drug tests of staff, are not used by the BOP.

We also found that an insufficient number of BOP inmates receive drug treatment, partly because the BOP underestimates and inadequately tracks inmates' treatment needs. In addition, non-residential treatment - an important component of drug treatment - is not adequately provided at BOP institutions due to insufficient staffing, lack of policy guidance, and lack of incentives for inmates to seek drug treatment.

After describing our principal findings in more detail, we summarize the 15 recommendations we offer to make the BOP's drug interdiction and treatment efforts more effective.

Principal Findings

Indicators of the Drug Problem in BOP Institutions

The BOP recorded more than 2,800 positive tests for drug use by inmates each year from fiscal year (FY) 1997 through FY 2001. The BOP national rate of positive drug tests declined only slightly during this 5-year period, as did the overall rate of positive drug tests for four of the BOP's five institution security levels.

Analyzing trends among BOP institutions of differing security levels is significant because it allows comparison of institutions with similar inmate populations and security features. We found that despite enhanced perimeter security features and internal operational procedures at the higher security level institutions, drugs are still getting in at rates more than 1 times the BOP national rate. Specific institutions within each security level have much higher rates of inmate drug use. For example, while the BOP national rate for positive inmate drug tests in FY 2001 was 1.94 percent and the overall rate for high security institutions was 3.04 percent, the high security U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas, had a positive inmate drug test rate of 7.84 percent.

Misconduct reports issued by BOP staff against inmates also demonstrate that drugs are present in BOP institutions.1 For FY 1999 through FY 2001, the BOP drug misconduct rates showed that drugs are smuggled into institutions regardless of their security level. Every BOP institution has issued drug misconduct reports to inmates at some time during the 3-year period reviewed. Similar to the drug test results, several institutions within each security level significantly exceeded the overall rate for that security level for drug misconduct charges. Although misconduct rates may partially reflect the BOP's success in uncovering inmates' prohibited behavior, the fact that the total number of drug misconduct charges for all BOP institutions exceeds 3,500 annually indicates that drugs are regularly entering its institutions.

In addition, inmate overdoses (50 since FY 1997), drug finds in the institutions (1,100 recorded in evidence logs since FY 2000), and criminal cases prosecuted against inmates, staff, and visitors show that drug use and smuggling occur in almost every institution. From FY 1997 through FY 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened 791 drug-related cases involving BOP inmates (538 cases), visitors (183 cases), and staff (70 cases). The OIG Investigations Division's drug cases from FY 1997 through FY 2001 reflect 34 staff arrests. In addition, from FY 1997 through FY 2001, the BOP sustained drug-related misconduct allegations against 93 employees.

Stopping Drugs at the Primary Points of Entry

The BOP staff we interviewed identified inmate visitors, staff, and mail as the three primary points of entry for drugs into BOP institutions. We found that while the BOP employs drug interdiction activities to prevent drug smuggling through visitors and mail, it fails to take adequate measures to prevent staff from bringing drugs into the institutions. The BOP does not employ staff interdiction strategies common in state correctional systems such as limiting the personal property staff are permitted to bring into institutions, searching staff, and random drug testing.

        Inmate Visitors

According to BOP officials, inmates' visitors represent the predominant source of drugs entering BOP institutions. At the institutions we visited, wardens, department heads, intelligence staff, and correctional officers attributed visitors' success in smuggling drugs to two primary reasons: (1) the availability of contact visits, and (2) insufficient cameras, monitors, and staff to observe visits.

        Staff

The BOP imposes no restrictions on the personal property BOP staff can bring into the institutions, does not search staff or their property when they enter for duty, and does not conduct random drug testing of staff. The BOP's interdiction activities to prevent drug smuggling by staff consist of background investigations, annual integrity training, and limited drug testing of certain staff. Background investigations are conducted prior to initial employment with the BOP and are updated every five years. In addition, the BOP conducts staff drug tests for pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and post-substance abuse treatment.

We found that these limited measures have not been effective. Drugs continue to enter the institutions through staff, as evidenced by the drug cases involving BOP staff investigated every year by the OIG and the FBI. While the number of staff who smuggle drugs into BOP institutions is small, they can do more damage to the safety and security of the institutions than visitors who smuggle drugs. When staff smuggle drugs, the amounts are often larger, they reach more inmates, and more money is involved. Additionally, smuggling may contribute to a reduction in trust among fellow staff and in public trust and confidence in the BOP. We believe that additional drug interdiction efforts targeted at staff are needed to reduce drugs in BOP institutions.

        Inmate Mail

Inmate mail is the third primary entry point for smuggling drugs into BOP institutions. The large volume of inmate mail, limited staff training, and inadequate drug detection technology present significant challenges for BOP staff to effectively detect drugs in inmate mail.

Reducing Inmates' Demand for Drugs Through Drug Treatment

Demand reduction for drugs through drug abuse treatment for inmates is the second component of the BOP's drug interdiction strategy. However, this component of the strategy has not been implemented as effectively as it could be. We found that an insufficient number of BOP inmates receive drug treatment, partly because the BOP underestimates and inadequately tracks inmates' treatment needs. In addition, an important component of drug treatment, non-residential treatment, is not adequately provided at BOP institutions due to insufficient staffing, lack of policy guidance, and lack of incentives for inmates to seek drug treatment.

Other Opportunities to Improve Drug Interdiction Activities

We reviewed other points of entry for drugs into BOP institutions - such as the receiving and discharge area, the warehouse, the rear gate, volunteers, and contractors - that BOP staff stated were also vulnerable to drug smuggling. Regarding the receiving and discharge area, the warehouse, and the rear gate, we concluded that better technology could supplement manual inspections for drugs by correctional officers. For volunteers and contractors, we concluded that information about their backgrounds could be more effectively shared among BOP institutions to assist institutions in their selection decisions. We also reviewed the role of institutions' intelligence staff in drug interdiction activities and concluded that rotation of the Special Investigative Supervisor (SIS) lieutenant is too frequent and that timely investigative and drug training for the SIS lieutenants is needed. We also reviewed the BOP's only canine unit at the USP Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and concluded canine units could be a useful drug interdiction technique for other institutions. Canines trained specifically in drug detection can search for and detect drugs in all areas of the institutions where BOP currently has no drug detecting technology, such as the mailroom, the warehouse, the receiving and discharge area, the rear gate, and inmates' housing, work, and common areas.

Recommendations

Our report contains 15 recommendations to help improve the BOP's efforts to prevent drugs from entering its institutions. We recognize that no single interdiction activity or combination of activities may eliminate all drugs from entering BOP institutions, and not every technique may be necessary at every institution. But we believe the BOP should employ a variety of additional and improved interdiction activities. We made these recommendations based on our field work, our review of BOP policies and procedures, and our interviews with BOP staff and their experienced judgment of potential solutions to the drug problem in BOP institutions. We also reviewed information about drug interdiction activities conducted by several state correctional systems. We incorporated into our recommendations those state activities that we believe could be adopted by the BOP to supplement its existing interdiction activities.

Regarding inmate visits, we recommend the BOP consider restricting or eliminating contact visits for specific inmates or institutions based on an assessment of the inmate's history of drug use or drug smuggling in prison and the institution's overall drug problem. We also recommend the BOP consider implementing pat searches of visitors. The BOP also should invest in additional technology such as cameras, monitors, ion spectrometry technology, or other emerging drug detection technology to better screen and monitor visitors. Finally, the BOP should increase its staffing level in visiting rooms to ensure sufficient direct observation and monitoring of each visit.

Regarding BOP staff, we recommend the BOP implement policies to restrict the size and content of property staff bring into institutions. We also recommend that the BOP implement a policy regarding the searching of staff and their property when they enter BOP institutions, as well as implement random drug testing for staff.

Regarding mail, we recommend the BOP implement a policy restricting unsolicited mail. The BOP should provide additional training for staff to help them effectively search mail to detect drugs, and also should test mailroom drug detection technologies.

Regarding inmate drug treatment, we recommend that the BOP maintain in SENTRY complete drug treatment-related data for all inmates and use this data as a basis to better assess the drug treatment needs of inmates and to better allocate resources for drug treatment staff and programs. The BOP should implement additional non-residential treatment programs for inmates in the general population. The BOP should provide a curriculum for non-residential treatment and guidance regarding the minimum number of weeks and sessions. We also recommend the BOP implement incentives for participation in non-residential drug treatment and consequences for non-completion.

We also recommend that the BOP improve drug interdiction activities for the receiving and discharge area, the warehouse, the rear gate, volunteers, contractors, and institution intelligence operations. The BOP also should consider another pilot test of canines as a drug detection technique for its institutions.

We recognize that some of these recommendations may require additional funds, but we believe these efforts are needed to reduce the problem of drugs entering BOP institutions.


Footnotes

  1. The BOP has specific administrative rules identifying prohibited inmate behavior. If an inmate violates any of these rules, the BOP issues a misconduct report. The prohibited behaviors are divided into four levels: 100, 200, 300, and 400, with the 100 level being the most serious. Four drug-related misconduct charges are listed as 100-level offenses: Refusing to Provide a Urine Sample; Introduction of Any Narcotics; Use of Any Narcotics; and, Possession of Any Narcotics. Across all security levels for the last five fiscal years, drug misconduct charges have comprised approximately 66 percent of all 100-level misconduct charges.

  2. The exception are inmates found guilty of a misconduct related to visiting procedures or otherwise placed on visiting restrictions by the Disciplinary Hearing Officer.

  3. Ion spectrometry technology detects the presence of microscopic traces of illegal drugs on persons and their clothing. Currently, approximately 40 BOP institutions have the technology.

  4. American Federation of Government Employees, Council 33 v. Roberts, 9 F.3d 1464 (9th Cir. 1993); see also American Federation of Government Employees, Council 33 v. Reno, 1994 WL 22,4570 (N.D.Cal., May 16, 1994) (on remand).