Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly City Beat

By Christopher Smart

Like many other places in America, illegal drugs, like marijuana and heroin, are available upon demand at the Utah State Prison.

Although it's something that Gov. Mike Leavitt and prison Director Lane McCotter don't like to admit, criminals don't have to kick a drug habit just because they are incarcerated. That, despite statistics that show illegal drug use is tied to at least half of all criminal activity.

The prison drug problem became painfully apparent again recently when Utah prison inmate Randy Cosette overdosed on heroin while on 'round-the-clock lock-down status in the Oquirrh IV facility at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

Cosette, whose numerous crimes have been related to his drug addiction, is now in a coma. But apparently, Cosette was not the only inmate taking heroin while on lockdown in the Oquirrh facility. Cosette's sister, Cindy Ziegenbien, said a prison staffer told her that other inmates had suffered drug-related sicknesses during the same period.

Ross Anderson, a Salt Lake City-based attorney, is critical of a prison system that punishes drug addicts but apparently is unwilling to rehabilitate them. "By failing to address substance abuse, for which these people are incarcerated, we virtually guarantee a high recidivism [return to prison] rate, which essentially costs taxpayers huge amounts of money that could otherwise be invested in substance-abuse programs, education and training [of inmates]," he said.

According to sources close to the prison, marijuana, heroin and tobacco are the drugs of choice by inmates. Tobacco has been outlawed by the Utah Department of Corrections as contraband. But all three are smuggled into the prison on a regular basis, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Drugs are smuggled into the prison three ways, sources say: Through contact visits with family and friends; through inmates who have jobs outside the prison walls; and by prison staffers themselves, who seek extra money or the friendship of inmates.

Not surprisingly, drugs are more expensive inside the prison than out on the street. That makes smuggling attractive to some staffers who feel the pinch of low salaries at the prison.

According to inmates, heroin sells for about $50 inside the prison. A marijuana cigarette, or joint, costs about $8. A hand-rolled tobacco cigarette is worth about $2.50. And a commercially produced tobacco cigarette fetches about $6 at the Point of the Mountain prison.

Up to one-third of the tobacco and drugs are smuggled in during contact visits with family and friends, sources indicate. That is accomplished when inmates swallow "balloons," which are later vomited up, or "keistering" the drugs — when an inmate hides them in his anus.

But the free flow of drugs at the prison is made possible largely by prison staff members. Most of the illegal drugs and tobacco are smuggled into the prison by guards and other staff, sources say. Generally, staffers get the drugs from friends of inmates on the outside.

Ironically, the Board of Pardons insists that all parolees refrain from any drug or alcohol use or they will be sent back to prison.

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