Missouri corrections officers say they struggle to stop the prison drug pipeline

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ST. LOUIS – There are more drugs inside Missouri prisons than outside, according to a former corrections officer. He said the state’s department of corrections doesn’t have enough staff to stop the illegal pipeline.

Fox 2/KPLR 11 found it’s leading to reports of overdoses among prisoners who are supposed to be getting off drugs.

Former Missouri Eastern Correctional Center Lt. Lawrence Slape described prison as essentially a playground for drugs.

“The joke in MECC is you have more drugs inside than you do outside,” he said.

Slape said the department of corrections won’t do anything about it.

“There’s no accountability. Nobody gets charged,” he said.

Fox 2/KPLR 11 spoke with a recently released prisoner who confirmed the lack of accountability. We’ve concealed his identity so he can get a job and keep away from his old life.

“They don’t prosecute people. They just don’t,” he said. “I know people who got caught with an ounce of heroin. They do 30 days in the hole and they’re right back out.”

The former prisoner remembered 8 overdoses in 72 hours near his cell.
Slape said he remembers four in the same cell.

“They were totally unconscious in the same cell, at the same time. All four of them were overdosed,” he said.

Joni Light, currently a supervisor in Farmington, remembered several recent heroin overdoses.

“Thank God for Narcan or we would’ve had three dead bodies,” she said.

Another Farmington corrections officer said the DOC covers them up.

“It’s natural causes. I’m sorry heroin overdose is not a natural cause,” he said.

We asked for drug overdose numbers from DOC’s medical branch, which is run by the private company Corizon.

A Corizon spokesperson responded, “Off the top of my head, I don’t know how drug-related incident data is collected or reported in Missouri, but because we are custodians of our clients records, I don’t feel comfortable pulling together data outside of a client request. I think you are going to have to make a request to the department (of Corrections) and they can let us know if we need to pull data together.”

The DOC also would not provide overdose numbers or facilitate data collection through Corizon. When we asked if anyone's been held accountable for drugs, a spokesperson wrote, "Department policy requires that we close particular offender records."

Corrections officers said the DOC not only won’t talk about it, but it also won’t fix it.

Officer Light said the problem is massive.

“We have a laundry facility, which is where a lot of drugs come in. It has drop ceilings.” Prisoners doing daily chores, moving around with fewer officers to watch them, can easily move the drugs.

“If you don’t have the minimum staff, you can’t run the prison,” Slape said.

Slape recently resigned, saying the atmosphere was too lenient. He claimed corrections officers sometimes got in trouble for drug searches.

“Now you’re telling him he can’t do his job in front of the offenders,” he said. “So sometimes you feel like they’re taking the offenders; side and I tried my best to figure the system out but I couldn’t do it.” Slape described drugs being brought in through visitation, hidden in socks, and lighters.

“They’d take the bottom out of it and put it in the bottom of the lighter,” he said.

Former Bowling Green corrections officer Amanda Caldwell said someone even used a baby to smuggle drugs.

“A lady had come in with a baby and there was drugs in the diaper,” she said.

A former inmate said prisoners were also taking advantage of what they see as overworked officers who are stressed, demoralized, and underpaid.

“Especially if you catch the right one; you offer them $3,000, they’ll basically do anything you want them to do,” he said.

Officers told me low pay is no excuse for doing wrong and that they also report bad apples in their ranks, yet another thing they claim DOC does not address.

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