Rikers Island has not been having a good year PR-wise, to put it mildly.
In July, a New York Times investigation found that mentally ill inmates at the city’s complex of jail facilities are subjected to pervasive violence at the hands of guards. And just a month later, an investigation by the federal Department of Justice found a dramatic over-reliance on solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, and a “culture of violence” where inmate beatings were common and almost never punished.
But a report from the city’s Department of Investigation released last week found that the jail facilities there are also a pretty excellent place to score drugs, and smuggling by corrections officers is jaw-droppingly easy.
Posing as a guard — and frankly not trying very hard — an undercover investigator with the DOI was able to smuggle in Cheech & Chong quantities of drugs, including a half-pound of reefer, 250 packets of heroin, a bunch of prescription drugs, alcohol, and a razor blade, all without a hitch at every one of six Rikers facilities.
And how did all those drugs get past security checkpoints? According to the report, the main conduit for contraband smuggled in by guards has apparently been cargo pants, part of their standard-issue uniform, which seems like less than a mastermind-level technique. The DOI report details six cases of officers who routinely “smuggled,” i.e., “just pretty much carried,” drugs and other forbidden items in their cargo pockets or lunch bags, which for some reason aren’t x-rayed at the entrance.
The DOI’s undercover officer was also able to smuggle in a pint of vodka using a method familiar to any high school kid — he put it in a water bottle, and carried it openly through security checkpoints. Had the investigator been able to sell his gear on the other side, the report estimates, he would have earned $3,600 in courier’s fees, and the entire load would have been worth about $22,000.
The report offers a few recommendations for the Department of Correction, like adding drug-sniffing dogs at staff entry gates, upgrading metal detectors and other technology, and maybe moving guard lockers outside of the security perimeter, so employees enter only with their uniforms and minimal personal belongings.
Also, the report recommends, no more cargo pants.