Trending Topics

The true cost of contraband

A corrupt officer has a price! An honest officer has integrity

contraband shanks

Florida Department of Corrections

The American public is not only fed up with crime on the streets but also with reports of corruption within the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, we are hearing more stories of contraband smuggling by prison staff.

contraband statistics

A Florida DOC report shows recovered contraband statistics for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Florida Department of Corrections

A recent report from the Florida Department of Corrections provides some insight. The record shows all contraband recovered in Florida prisons for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Keep in mind that the report only shows what was found; it’s impossible to know how much contraband was missed or already consumed. Although this is only one state agency, it reflects a concerning trend that must be reversed. The safety of everyone behind the prison walls is at risk when a corrupt staff member is in the camp.


The effects of contraband on prison staff and the inmate population can be devastating.

Weapons are used on other inmates and prison staff. Inmates die from bad drugs and overdoses. Rival prison drug kingpins and gangs fight for position, killing each other for power and money.

Don’t think inmates care about power or status? Just look at Sal Magluta, leader of the Cocaine Cowboys. When Magluta ran away from a Miami courthouse during his passport hearing, he easily could have fled abroad. Instead, he only went as far as West Palm beach. A former drug kingpin later said Magluta did not want to give up the influence he had built in the Miami area.

Similarly, prison drug dealers may not want to give up their little piece of territory inside.


When a prison staff member works with inmates to commit prison crimes, they not only have shamed their agency and the badge, they have also placed their family in harm’s way. Once on an inmate’s payroll, staff members become a pawn in a chess game. If the officer becomes hesitant at any point, the inmates use all the leverage they have over the staff member. Threats against the officer’s family or threats to turn over payment ledgers are a subtle reminder to the staff member that he or she is now owned.


Inmates and their street connections keep a record of corrupt staff members. Inmates build mental notes on prison staff members based on conversations with officers and other staff. Each conversation can give the inmate a piece of personal information to use against the staff member later. A staff member unaware of this manipulation tactic can be fooled.

Inmates can also use their street connections to do background checks on staff members to recruit for smuggling contraband. The staff members’ home, family and off-duty activities may be monitored and recorded. This is more likely to occur if the staff member is being recruited by a gang or a large-scale prison drug smuggling operation. Payments to the corrupt staff member are recorded into a ledger. Many payments are made to a staff members’ bank account or mailed to a P.O. box opened by the staff member for the sole purpose of illicit payments.

A good example is Sal Magluta’s girlfriend and bookkeeper, Marilyn Bonachea. Bonachea explained in the recent Netflix documentary “Cocaine Cowboys” how she used code names for officers in her payment ledger. When she was arrested, that ledger book made it into the hands of the FBI. I always remember from my Security Threat Group Training that wherever there are prison drug sales there is someone keeping track.

Another method inmates use to follow corrupt staff is by using smuggled cell phones. Inmates can record a video of an officer doing a dirty deed or bragging about something he or she has done. Even recordings of staff-inmate sex have been made, unbeknownst to the staff member. The recording is then sent to an outside contact and saved as insurance against the corrupt staff member.


Corrupt prison staff know right from wrong. They have seen other corrupt staff head to the county jail in handcuffs. Apparently, this is not a deterrent; if you’re dirty you’re dirty. Many corrupt staff think they’re too smart to ever get caught. They also believe they have the respect of the inmates and outside connections. The truth is that, when caught, inmates and street connections easily give up the dirty staff member in return for a plea deal.

It is a no-win situation for a corrupt prison staff member any way you cut the cake. Once locked up, the staff member is thrown to the wolves by the very people paying him or her. Of course, no one can be convicted without evidence, right? That is why inmates and street connections save paper trails, phone calls, letters, and records of conversations with dirty staff members.


Although there are sanctions in place to report and investigate prison corruption, these methods do not always work. If supervisors or upper management are involved in a cover-up to make the agency look better, honest officers have nobody to turn to. Fear of retaliation means prison staff will be hesitant to report criminal activity, creating a work environment ruled by intimidation. Corruption causes a breakdown in prison security and can lead to serious injuries, escape and even death. That’s why we must first be aware of the issue so that we can combat it.

NEXT: How to buy body scanners (eBook)

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.