Drug Smuggling On the Rise in County Jails

California county jails have witnessed an explosion in illegal drug smuggling over the past three years, officials say. Now, they’re pointing the finger at opportunistic criminals bolstered by the state’s realignment law.

Since 2011, 7 of the 10 most populous counties in the state have seen a significant uptick in jail narcotics cases. In San Bernardino, intra-jail drug seizures climbed 102 percent between 2010 and 2012. During the same time period, drug cases at Orange County jails jumped from 91 to 378, while Los Angeles saw an increase of about 10 percent. The figures are no coincidence, according to county officials. In fact, they say many parolees are purposely getting themselves arrested in order to distribute narcotics behind bars.

Officials have placed most of the blame on the 2011 realignment law, which introduced a rougher level of inmates into county jails. In particular, they point to a provision known as “flash incarceration,” which allows parole violators to spend 10 days in county jail rather than months in state prison. Criminals, they say, have used it to smuggle contraband into the system for profit before returning to the streets.

While narcotics have always been a problem for the jails, sheriff’s officials say they’ve never seen anything quite like this.

"Nobody was ready for this freight train," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who also heads the California State Sheriff's Association.

University of California, Berkeley Professor Franklin Zimring, however, doubts that realignment is fully to blame. He believes sheriff’s departments could be overstating the problem, noting that they were among the most vocal opponents of the law to begin with. Whatever the cause, numerous counties have already undertaken efforts to combat the problem. These efforts include increased security measures and perimeter controls, more drug-sniffing dogs, and body scanners.

Read more about the growing narcotics problem at California county jails here.


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