News10NBC Investigates: The fight against contraband in local jails

Investigating drugs in local jails at 6 p.m.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has been a recent uptick in the number of inmates and visitors to the Monroe County jail attempting to smuggle drugs, money, and paraphernalia inside.

News10NBC recently reported on the criminal charges levied against inmate Brandon Davis. Deputies say after searching his cell, they found:

  • 83 rolling papers concealed inside a balloon
  • 61 match heads concealed inside a balloon     
  • Two strikers concealed inside a balloon
  • Brown leafy-like substance (suspected tobacco) concealed inside a balloon
  • Two balloons containing synthetic marijuana/K2
  • Two balloon containing 110 puzzle pieces saturated in liquid synthetic marijuana/K2  

The arrest has many people wondering how Davis got all of that inside the jail and how often situations like this happen.  So, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke did a walk-through of the jail on Monday to see what screening measures are in place. 

When a person becomes an inmate at the Monroe County Jail, they go through a standard safety protocol. 

“That search begins with just a visual inspection, then a pat search, and then we have a scanner that actually scans them for any edges, weapons and things of that nature to make sure that we’re safe and they’re safe,” explains Major James McGowen. 

Then, an inmate must undress for a visual inspection.

“Everybody coming to the jail has constitutional rights, and we have to be careful we don’t violate those. So, we do the best we can,” he adds.

The intake process identifies most contraband.

“We have retrieved everything at entry from loaded weapons, to razor blades to shoes and items — things you wouldn’t imagine someone would hide, and of course drugs and money,” says McGowen. 

All inmates spend at least 48 hours in the intake area under observation just in case anything is hidden in their body that doesn’t show on the scanners or in the visual inspection. But occasionally, contraband still makes its way into the general population. 

“We’ll find a way that is an avenue and we’ll effectively shut that down. And as quickly as that gets shut down, there’s somebody coming up with some other type of way that you may never have thought about it,” McGowen says. 

A few years ago, inmates were being sent letters that had been soaked in liquid synthetic marijuana.  Someone just had to put a piece of the paper in their mouth to get high. So now, the inmates get a copy of their mail.

“Here’s the exact same thing you would have got, it’s just a copy of it and we’re not going to throw the original away because it is your property, when you get out of jail… ‘Here, you get it back,’” McGowen says.

Now, some have moved on from soaking the paper to soaking the puzzle pieces. 

“We’ve seen an increase. And I believe there’s just a lack of consequences for the attempts now than there used to be,“ Major McGowen tells News10NBC. “A lot of these cases get plead down. A lot of these cases get put into other cases that are pre-existing, and if the consequences are very low and the benefit is very high, well, you’re going to take that risk.”

For some inmates, it’s a business decision to try and smuggle in drugs. But McGowen says others in the middle of addiction feel like it’s a matter of life and death. That’s why the jail has added a number of rehab programs and services over the last several years.

“If you come in here and you’re currently on an opioid, we’ll get you a bridge medication right away. We’ll bridge that medication, to knock down those cravings,” he says. “If you elect to take an injectable, which will actually block some of those effects, we will get side by side with you, we’ll pay for it. We’ll take care of everything and do everything we can to get you back out into the community with the best chance for you to succeed.”

Investigating drugs in local jails

Investigating drugs in local jails