27 Investigates: Drug trade behind bars

Access to drugs doesn't stop with incarceration. Drugs are easily accessible behind bars, and it’s a growing problem

Kevin Smith


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Crimes involving drugs make up a large portion of incarcerations in local, state and federal lockups. Unfortunately, the access to drugs doesn’t stop with incarceration. Drugs are easily accessible behind bars, and it’s a growing problem.

WKBN 27 First News first met Kevin Smith two years when he was incarcerated at the Mahoning County Jail. Heroin had taken control of his life and he was facing a long prison sentence. Smith had hoped his time behind bars would be a chance for him to get clean and stay sober, but that is not the reality he found in prison.

Smith is now at the Noble Correctional Institution in Caldwell, Ohio. But even behind bars, he wasn’t able to stay off drugs. Correctional officers made more than 3,000 seizures of drugs and alcohol from Ohio prisons in 2015. People smuggle them through mail and during visits. In one case, someone flew drone loaded with drugs and cigarettes right into a prison yard. With that kind of prolific access, staying off drugs was a bigger challenge than Smith expected.

“Man, I will make it perfectly clear. I relapsed,” Smith said. “You are already in a volatile situation and then you make it worse by doing the one thing that you know is going to lead to nowhere but to a negative consequence.”

Smith was caught using suboxone, a prescription replacement for heroin, while in prison. He said he got the drug from other inmates. The infraction cost him time solitary confinement and a transfer to another prison.

State investigators say there are probably more drugs they don’t find inside prisons. In fact, Smith said some men schemed about getting sent back to prison after their parole and getting rich off smuggling drugs inside.

The Ohio State Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections groups major contraband to include cell phones, weapons and drugs and alcohol. And while all contraband increased from 2010 to 2015, the largest increase was with drugs and alcohol.

Smith’s time in solitary was a sobering one in many ways. By that time, his own mother wasn’t talking to him and recovery was a long way away. But one day he spotted an NA book (Narcotics Anonymous) on his sally port tray. He picked it up and started reading. He found the strength to finally live clean and says he is turning his failure in prison into a story of hope for heroin addicts both in and out of jail.

“No hand is just going to reach down and magically mold you into the person you want to be. It is an endless cycle, and until you can find a way to break that cycle by changing who you are, nothing is going to change that,” Smith said.

Smith plans to start a recovery business when he is released from prison. He wants to create an online streaming and social media network just for addicts. His dream is to instantly connect people with the help they need whenever they feel the urge to get high. He has also repaired his relationship with his mother.

You can read more about Keven Smith’s journey on his blog. 

WKBN 27 First News requested an interview with the Ohio State Department of Corrections to discuss the problem of drugs in state prisons but they did not respond to the request.

WKBN 27 First News will hold another panel discussion as part of our efforts to find solutions to combat the area’s opiate epidemic. “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis, Impact on Families” will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13 on WKBN 27 First News and WKBN.com.

This is the third panel discussion that WKBN has held on the issue. See all of WKBN 27 First News’ stories on the epidemic in our “Heroin Crisis” section.

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