Prison black market a steal: Correctional officers get drawn into contraband smuggling

From: Denver Post
Posted: 12/18/2011
By John Ingold
Matthew Amos has wide, boxcar shoulders and steam-engine arms. On Friday he stood before a federal judge in Denver pleading for his life.

If he went to prison, Amos told the judge, he would have to pay fellow inmates for protection. Or he would be “whored out.” Or worse.

It’s what happens to former prison guards who end up behind bars.

“There’s no way I would be able to stay out on that yard without providing some kind of service,” Amos said, voice unsteady. “To be asked to go into that system will be asking me to be something I don’t want to be.”

This is where $17,200 in easy money landed him.

Amos’ conviction for smuggling tobacco into a federal prison in Florence provides a revealing glimpse into the jailhouse black market — where a single bag of tobacco can go for $1,000 and the key players in funneling contraband to inmates are often the very people hired to watch over them.

Between 2001 and 2010, the annual number of federal correctional officers arrested nearly doubled, according to a Justice Department report released in September. During that period, 272 officers were arrested, with many of those cases involving contraband-smuggling.

Tobacco, which was banned in nearly all federal prisons in 2004, has fueled a lucrative, illicit prison economy that proves irresistible to some prison workers. But employees have also been involved in smuggling cellphones, drugs and other items into inmates.

“Some officers can make more than they’re making from their actual paycheck just by smuggling in tobacco,” said Robert Worley, a professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University — Central Texas, who has studied inappropriate guard-inmate relationships.

Read more: Prison black market a steal: Correctional officers get drawn into contraband smuggling – The Denver Post

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