NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prisons Lack Aggressive Drug-Screening Policies

February 18, 2002

Further evidence that prison inmates can and do obtain illegal drugs has been unearthed by Insight magazine. The magazine discovered that 188 convicts died of drug overdoses in state prisons nationwide during the past decade.

Many of these deaths and widespread drug trafficking inside the prisons could have been prevented if prisons had aggressive drug-screening programs, according to the magazine's investigators.

  • One bombshell uncovered in their report was that tiny Maryland -- with a prison population of only 22,642 -- had more fatal overdoses (4) on average annually than Texas (3), out of a prison population of 148,457 between 1998 and 2001.
  • California, which has the largest prison population among the states -- with 162,467 -- had the most annual fatal overdoses on average (7.75) during the period.
  • Many state prison systems fail to track overdoses, confiscations, arrests and convictions.
  • State corrections officials say that nonfatal overdoses are so common that they are not even counted -- and that untreated addicts who die simply disappear, opening up their beds for another inmate.

Congress in 1998 provided federal grants to states that dedicated part of their funding to drug-treatment programs in prisons -- but demanded little collection or tracking of statistics.

Source: Timothy W. Maier, "Drug Overdoses Kill Hundreds of Inmates in Nation's Prisons," Washington Times, February 13, 2002.


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