By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
Personal visits for inmates in NSW correctional facilities have been suspended since 16 March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while this suspension is preventing the spread of the virus, it’s also taking an emotional toll on those inside.
These circumstances have also cut off a vital route for contraband to enter into the prison system. And this has meant that smugglers have had to come up with more inventive means to ensure illegal items fetching high prices in gaol can be taken in without detection.
The NSW Department of Communities and Justice recently announced there have been about a dozen incidents where prison staff have intercepted clothes meant for inmates with illicit items secreted into lining or other sections of the clothing.
Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) supplies all inmates with prison greens to wear. However, friends, family and associates of inmates are permitted to send them private clothing for approved purposes, such as court appearances, external leave and prior to release.
CSNSW commissioner Peter Severin congratulated prison staff in a media release last week, which followed another contraband interception.
The corrections boss said, “Every illegal item stopped ensures a safer and more secure correctional environment for both staff and inmates.”
Officers at the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre in West Kempsey recently found almost 300 buprenorphine strips hidden inside the soles of a pair of sneakers that were being sent to an inmate currently detained in the facility.
Buprenorphine is a prescription drug that’s usually used to treat opioid use disorder within the general community.
Used as a replacement for heroin inside, bupe, as it is commonly known, can fetch between $400 to $1,000 per strip in this state’s maximum-security facilities.
Mid North Coast governor Majid Marashian explained that officers from the Security Operations Group and the intelligence team found 290 strips – or 9.6 grams of bupe – after noticing that the soles of the sneakers appeared to be glued on.
Corrections officers were then able to verify their suspicions with the use of an X-ray machine. And NSW corrections minister Anthony Roberts has since said he’s “proud” these officers are trained well enough to detect such contraband.
The Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (NSW) (the Act) is the chief piece of legislation governing CSNSW operations. It ensures inmates are removed from the community, that they’re not endangered in doing so and that they should be rehabilitated prior to reintegration.
Part 13A of the Act contains offences relating to places of detention. Section 253C contains a number of trafficking offences.
Subsection 253C(1) prohibits the trafficking of alcohol into a correctional facility, which carries up to 6 months prison time and/or a fine of $1,100. Subsection 253C(2) prohibits the smuggling of poisons into a prison via sanctions of up to 2 years in gaol and/or a $2,200 fine.
Subsection 253C(4) applies to an individual found smuggling no more than a small quantity of a prohibited drug or a plant, within the terms set out in the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW) (the DMT). This offence can lead to 2 years prison time and/or a fine of $5,500.
While buprenorphine is a legal drug with a prescription, it’s illegal without one. And the amount found in the sneakers at the Mid North Coast facility constitutes a small quantity under the DMT Act. On the outside, this would result in a section 10 charge of possession for a civilian without a script.
Section 253D of the Act makes it an offence to introduce a syringe into a place of detention, or to supply one to an inmate. And section 253E contains the crime of being in possession of a weapon inside a gaol. Both these offences carry maximum penalties of 2 years imprisonment.
Section 253F of the Act makes it an offence for an inmate to be in the possession of a mobile phone, any part of such a phone, a SIM card or a phone charger. This crime carries a penalty of up to 2 years behind bars and/or a fine of $5,500.
And it’s also an offence for an individual to be in possession of a remotely piloted aircraft, under section 253FA of the Act. This is either inside of a correctional facility or nearby to one. This crime carries a maximum prison sentence of 2 years and/or a fine of $2,200.
As CSNSW outlined the recent bupe find within the pair of sneakers was only one of a dozen such incidents, which have involved contraband items being hidden in clothes, which has included inside shoulder pads or suit lining.
Not long after visitation rights were revoked, Security Operations Group officers located a package of around 80 bupe strips sewn into the tongue of a pair of sneakers that were being sent into Cessnock’s Shortland Correctional Centre. This was after a drug dog indicated the package.
In June, officers located 35 bupe strips that had been sewn into the crotch area of a pair of trousers at Long Bay Gaol, while in August, 5 grams of bupe were found sewn into the pocket lining of a pair of trousers on their way into Silverwater’s Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre.
Three packets containing 28 grams of “brown vegetable matter” – possibly tobacco – were found inside the lining of a suit making its way into Parklea Prison in September. While 5 grams of “green vegetable matter” – possibly cannabis – and 140 bupe strips were also found.
And at John Morony Correctional Centre officers noticed something suspicious about the lining of a suit in September. On closer inspection, they found 150 bupe strips and 67 grams of tobacco hidden inside the shoulder pads of the outfit.
Working both sides
But it isn’t always inmates’ associates on the outside who are attempting to smuggle items into gaol. The high prices that contraband goods can fetch in prison often tempts those working within correctional facilities.
On 10 June this year, officers from NSW police Robbery and Serious Crime Squad’s Corrective Services Investigation Unit attended the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, following reports that an officer was attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison.
And following questioning, the probationary officer was suspended from duty and charged with trafficking.