State prison officials say they have filed criminal charges against several correctional officers and visitors who they say were caught trying to smuggle drugs and other contraband into Maryland prisons in recent weeks.
"Officers and visitors bringing contraband into our facilities will not be tolerated because their actions create an atmosphere that leads to violence and compromises the safety of the staff, inmates and the public," Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. said.
Correctional experts say the black market trade in contraband behind prison walls -- particularly in drugs -- fuels violence in prisons. Gangs fight over drug turf in prison much as they do on the streets, and those who fail to pay drug debts often become targets for assault.
Last week, state prison officials attributed a recent string of arrests to a stepped-up effort to stem the flow of banned items, including drugs, tobacco and cell phones, into Maryland prisons.
Last week, a 27-year-old correctional officer was caught trying to deliver marijuana and Ecstasy pills to inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup, and an officer was charged after authorities found marijuana in her car in the parking lot of the women's prison in Jessup, officials said.
In late September, a drug-sniffing dog alerted an officer to marijuana in the car of a visitor who admitted she was hoping to get it to an inmate at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, officials said.
And in another incident last month, a nurse working for a private company was caught handing over a large bag of tobacco to an inmate. Banned in Maryland prisons for several years, tobacco is a lucrative commodity, with tiny hand-rolled cigarettes selling in prison for as much as $3 to $6 each.
Heightened enforcement efforts also have led to recent contraband seizures at the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore and the Baltimore City Detention Center, officials said.
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar said the department "will vigorously pursue criminal charges against anyone caught possessing contraband or attempting to deliver it to inmates."
Those who are caught face substantial fines and up to 10 years in prison, a prison spokesman said. In addition to criminal charges, employees face the loss of their jobs and a permanent ban from similar state employment.
In July, a Sun article detailed how large amounts of contraband -- including heroin, marijuana, pornographic videos, tobacco, cell phones and top-shelf liquor -- were being routinely smuggled past security checkpoints and into the state's prisons.
The findings were based on a review of prison records obtained through Maryland's Public Information Act.