Contraband slipping into Indiana prisons

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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Breached underground pipelines allowed two killers and a rapist to break out of a maximum security prison on July 12th. But more often, 13 Investigates has learned it's the menace coming inside that escapes detection. Drugs, tobacco and weapons are slipping into overcrowded maximum security lockups that should be air tight.

13 investigates uncovers who's on the take and the state's battle against a dangerous prison pipeline.

The Pendleton Correctional Facility is home to thousands of Indiana's most violent offenders.
Some of the items discovered locked up with them include "cocaine, methadone, and heroin," said Madison County Coroner, Ned Dunnichay. "Somehow they get it inside the walls of the prison and it's distributed," he told 13 Investigates.

Drugs, tobacco, weapons and more make their way past tower snipers, and security checkpoints.

"I think that's something they need to look at," he added.

By the time Dunnichay gets a look, it's too late.

Just months ago he found inmate Anthony Kammen dead of an overdose from heroin, cocaine and methadone.

Dunnichay experience tells him it's not an isolated incident. "We'll have another one of these, it's just a matter of time," he predicted.

Insiders, fearing for their jobs, emailed 13 Investigates about large shipments like one discovered in June smuggled into the facility.

According to the email, "There are [correctional officers] bringing in drugs and contraband into the prison. This goes way up the ladder, way up...pounds of vacuum-packed tobacco a few weeks ago."

"I just can't believe, at least on a widespread basis, that there's a lot of officers that are turning their head or allowing trafficking to go on at Pendleton," said Department of Correction Commissioner Ed Buss.

Indiana prisons are not required to track the quantity of contraband seized. But Buss doesn't deny the troubling picture 13 Investigates found emerging from internal reports at the DOC.

In 2008, more than eight pounds of marijuana was confiscated, along with three ounces of both cocaine and heroin, and 45 ecstasy pills, not to mention 32 pounds of tobacco and more than 100 weapons.

During the first six months of 2009, more than five pounds of marijuana, five ounces of cocaine, and a whopping 125 pounds of tobacco and 53 weapons were confiscated. Inmates had even managed to get a handcuff key.

Sources tell 13 Investigates one shipment of cellophane wrapped tobacco was so big, prison investigators had to use a commercial sized laundry cart to haul it all away.

No surprise to Commissioner Buss. "Sure," he said. "That's not unusual."

"A cart full of tobacco, that suggests somebody had to drive that in," 13 Investigates said to Buss.

"They could have," said the commissioner, explaining that tobacco and drugs are hidden in shipments of food and furniture.

13 Investigates found it's a mix of inmate ingenuity and guards on the take.

At Pendleton's Furniture Shop, inmates make new chairs, tables and sofas, and refurbish old ones. But inside padded cushions, outsiders stash drugs, tobacco and contraband.

Former Correctional Officer and Shop supervisor Tommy Joe Turner knows all about it, but refused to talk to 13 Investigates.

In May he took a plea deal for felony bribery. He admits allowing wheel chairs stuffed with tobacco into the shop up to five different times. His payoff was $500.

"Every once in a while there is an officer who does do the wrong thing. There's not a culture of corruption in or a code of silence based on that, the fact that we do catch staff," insisted Buss.

He's talking about correctional officers like Tracy McGrady. Indiana State Police arrested her in 2008 for marijuana possession with intent to distribute.

The commissioner says another correctional officer was suspended in mid-July as part of an on-going drug investigation.

Still, he believes Pendleton's biggest offenders come through the front door.

"They will put them [drugs] in the most private places," Buss revealed. "Literally in their body cavities, in their most private parts between their under garments."

He's talking about visitors like Lakeisha Orr, Kenna Lyles, and Crystal Conningham. They're among a growing number of women charged with prison drug trafficking.

Conningham was found with marijuana, tobacco and tobacco rolling papers protruding from her underwear. She told a judge she was offered $500 on a chat line to slip the items to an inmate she doesn't even know.

Prison officials can't say how many others get by, but it's clear they do. And it puts guards and inmates at risk in a facility that's already dangerous.

"Some inmates use balloons to smuggle these drugs in," said Coronor Dunnichay.

He believes convicted rapist Anthony Kammen ingested two balloons containing three illicit drugs, but they burst, delivering a lethal dose.

Another inmate, John Smith, a convicted murderer out of Hamilton County, survived his overdose of methamphetamine, cocaine, and speed.

"It's just , it's a game," said Dunnichay. "You just have to keep playing the game and try to prevent the drugs from getting in there."

But it's a losing game for the DOC when it comes to cell phones.

Last year, 276 cell phones and 138 phone chargers were confiscated at Pendleton. Already this year 279 cell phones and 246 chargers have been seized. Incidentally, Prison investigators in Michigan City found a charger in the belongings of the inmates who escaped July 12th.

"They use these cell phones to coordinate the trafficking of drugs because we cannot monitor the cell phones like we can their other phone system. They can literally set up a drug trafficking situation in a matter of moments."

All of this happened at a maximum security facility.

The commissioner says hardened criminals who are willing to risk it all make the facility more vulnerable.

With no increased funds for new hires and critical staffing levels of one guard per 100 offenders, the DOC must work smarter and faster in a place prone to dangerous dealing.

During our probe, the DOC implemented a more intrusive "pat down" search for visitors. It's more hands on than at the airport.

At Pendleton, guards have stopped shaking down inmate cells by themselves. The commissioner says that's bad policy.

Prison contraband confiscated across the state by the Indiana Department of Correction

Pendleton Correctional Facility (the Indiana Reformatory) - contraband found in 2008 and also  January - June 2009