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Officers: More contraband showing up in jails

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Dan Evans/News-Sentinel


Inmates are given the bare essentials when they’re booked into the county jail. Handouts are essentially limited to a jumpsuit, bedding, shoes, toiletries and three square meals a day. For other items, inmates rely on wit and creativity.

Every day, correctional officers in jails throughout the state confiscate an array of contraband either smuggled or made inside the jail.

Items range from tiny luxuries like tobacco, marijuana and alcohol to potentially deadly shanks made out of plastic, razor blades and more.

Today, contraband is finding its way into the San Joaquin County Jail — and many other jails — more frequently than ever. And despite daily searches by officers and dogs, there are not enough correctional officers to handle the massive influx, officers say.

“We search all the time, but we can’t find it all,” said Custody Lt. Robert Teague of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department.

Teague said officers have confiscated more contraband in recent years than at any time during his 20-plus years as a correctional officer.

Inmates are clever, he said. And with more repeat offenders since realignment, jail officers are dealing with more inmates learning and knowing how to work the system.

“We have officers who are constantly looking for this stuff, but inmates are smart,” Teague said.

The Sacramento County Jail has seen a similar increase in contraband, officials said.

Deputy Dan Rouse, of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, has spent the past seven years working in the county jail, including three years in its high-security unit.

“On that floor, those guys were known to keep weapons and shanks,” he said. “I’ve found metal pieces that would filet me wide open.”

As the amount of contraband increases, so do the ways it is smuggled into the jails.

In the San Joaquin County Jail, officials select roughly 100 inmates to participate in maintenance programs, which allow inmates to work either in the jail yard or in the community under supervision.

And every day, inmates receive contraband from friends living outside jailhouse walls, officers said.

The exchange is simple.

Inmates will tell friends the day and place they’ll be working. Friends will then hide a package at the location, allowing the inmates to pick it up and hide it on — or in — themselves, officers said.

Every inmate is searched when they return to the jail.

“But that doesn’t mean they didn’t get it by,” said Teague, adding that there aren’t enough correctional officers to fully strip-search everyone.

Tactics aren’t limited to outside the jail, though.

At the jail’s “Honor Farm,” a lower security facility, inmates are allowed to have physical contact with visitors. So contraband can often be delivered during visits and inmates hide it around the facility, officers said.

Tobacco and drugs are the most frequently smuggled contraband, officers said. And the items they can’t sneak in are made inside the jail themselves.

Alcohol, a popular item, is brewed with simple ingredients, such as fruits, ketchup, sugar, bread for yeast and more.

However, contraband extends far beyond guilty pleasures.

Many inmates feel the need to defend themselves, so they’ll make shanks out of almost any material. Anything from a razor blade to a small piece of plastic snapped off a jail chair could become a shank.

Some believe it’s a requirement for survival.

“If you felt the need to defend yourself, you could make a weapon pretty quickly and out of just about anything,” Teague said.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at

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Dan Evans/News-Sentinel